Deborah Crombie’s first book, A Share in Death (1983), introduced Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James and was an immediate success. Crombie’s special talent is to create convincing English whodunits despite having been born and educated in Texas. In this Crombie resembles Martha Grimes, but her novels are more wide-ranging than those of Grimes. They are heavily atmospheric with evocative detail that contributes to the experience of the reading. Crombie’s idiosyncratic mode of writing is something a little darker than the typical cozy, but she does tend to follow the traditions established by Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. Sayers. She tends to follow the Christie technique of providing a parade of suspects at the end of a novel and surprising the reader by the final conclusion. However, her characters are far more layered and realistic than Christie’s. Crombie has updated the traditions of the Golden Age female mystery novelists and provided believable, likeable new characters. Moreover, the buildup of suspense in the Crombie novels is unmatched.
Like many detective series novels, Crombie’s books provide an extended narrative of the relationship between the two main characters, and Crombie adds depth to these characterizations by filling in more background with each book. There are many minor characters who appear and disappear in the series, but the main characters grow. The novels are police procedurals only in the broadest sense; the emphasis is on intuitive discovery. Crombie’s strengths include a persuasive British location, appealing series characters, and psychological realism. She is often compared with Elizabeth George as well as Grimes, but Crombie has a stronger emphasis on setting, and her settings are more dynamically involved with the characters and their actions.
Crombie received Agatha and Macavity Award nominations in 1993 for her first novel, A Share in Death, and Dreaming of the Bones (1997) won the Macavity Award, was named New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and was nominated for numerous awards. Her novels have been published in England, Italy, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic, and Germany.