(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The interaction between Deborah Crombie’s two main characters helps illustrate some British truths about class and money. As the relationship between Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid grows, they each learn something about the class system to which they belong, and so does the reader. The characters’ interactions with others provide subtle messages concerning authority and power, including how they affect others. The varied settings provide ample opportunity to present a study of British social values.

Crombie’s first books are more completely police procedurals, with clear explanations of the various stages of the investigation from discovery of the body to finding the culprit. She describes autopsies and investigation techniques convincingly. Some of the books end with explorations of various possible perpetrators before zeroing in on the always surprising culprit. A lot of the atmosphere of the books comes from the interaction between the two investigators.

Some of the later books are moody, overcast, even gothic. A Finer End (2001), for example, contains undeniable supernatural elements that play a significant part in the story, while in other books, the supernatural may be marginally present as a possibility. In A Finer End, the supernatural grows out of the environment, which makes it seem more natural. It may remind the reader of the notion of rememory in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), in which places are believed to carry images or traces of traumatic events that have occurred there. The notion of the effect of a place and its history on the present action is behind the apparently supernatural deviations from the norm in A Finer End. Vivid descriptions of natural scenes and of architecture in this book and others underscore the action and help explain it.

Major themes in Crombie’s work include the relationships between parents and children: how strong these bonds are and what they cause people to do and the terrible grief of losing a child. She also writes about the problems inherent in romantic relationships between people from different social backgrounds. Other important concerns are the effect of place on inhabitants, providing opportunities and obstacles, and the causes and effects of betrayal and how it damages that primary necessity, trust. Over and over in the novels, Crombie deals with the issue of trust, not only between Gemma and Duncan but also between other characters.

Mourn Not Your Dead

The 1996 novel Mourn Not Your Dead recounts the bludgeoning death of an unpopular police official, Division Commander Alastair Gilbert, who was widely known for his cruelty. Some missing jewelry suggests the killer may be a burglar who has been operating in the area, but other circumstances suggest a more complicated motive. The fragile-appearing widow and the daughter of the victim are mysterious women whose actions cannot...

(The entire section is 1204 words.)