Deborah Crombie was born Deborah Lynn Darden in 1952 in Dallas. She spent a good deal of her childhood reading, began writing poetry in junior high school, and was soon a committed writer. After sporadic experiments with higher education, she graduated from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, in 1977 with a major in biology—she then wished to be a field biologist or ornithologist. For her graduation present, her parents took her to England, and she says:that must have been the true turning point in my life. On the bus from Gatwick to London . . . I sat with my nose pressed to the window and tears running down my face. I had the most tremendous sense of homecoming, of belonging, that I still feel whenever I set foot on British soil.
This trip with her parents sparked a repeat trip by herself, and a lifelong love affair with the British Isles.
Crombie’s first marriage to Peter Crombie, a Scot, did not survive the publication of her first book. In 1994 she married Rick Wilson. Crombie for a time lived in the United Kingdom, where her stories are set. It was after a visit to Yorkshire that she began her Emma James-Duncan Kincaid series. Crombie eventually settled in Dallas, later noting that if she were to live in England, she would be divided emotionally and that her novels might not be as intense emotionally, as they would lack the element of longing for England. According to M. K. Graff, Crombie “agrees with her role model P. D. James that setting drives her characters, dictating their actions and behavior.” Crombie immerses herself in the settings of her novels to present them as vividly as possible.
After publishing her first novel, Crombie became a full-time writer. Previously she worked in newspaper advertising and also for a family business.