Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Share in Death (Book Review)

Title: A Share in Death: a Mystery Introducing Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James
Author: Deborah Crombie
Publication Information: Scribner’s, Hardcover, 1993; Sound Library Audio CD, 2004.
Genre: Mystery

Plot: In the first of a now prolific series, Scotland Yard detective Duncan Kincaid goes on holiday to a time share in Yorkshire where the discovery of first one body and then a second lands him in the middle of a murder investigation.* Despite not wanting to offend the local police force, his proximity to the crimes makes him a witness and his inquiries annoy both the residents and Detective Chief Inspector Bill Nash. He begins with discreet questions but needs to summon his determined sergeant, single mother Gemma James, to help him investigate the guests – a clever variation on the closed circle of suspects of a traditional house party mystery (I love those English classics from the Golden Age of mysteries).
What I liked: Duncan Kincaid is charming, polite, is kind to children, and has a sense of humor. It is very unusual for a detective and his sidekick to be separated for the whole book, but he and Gemma did interact by phone, and their relationship (which will surely become romantic at some point) is very charming (and tantalizing) in its early stages. At this point, Duncan seems potentially interested in every single woman near his age but there is a lot of time for him to become more discriminating. This was a good introduction to both characters.

I am a big critic of American authors who can’t write convincing British characters and settings (and vice versa) but Texas-born Crombie impressed me with her skillful depiction of Scotland Yard detectives, and particularly with Gemma’s authentic-sounding vocabulary. I can’t wait to read more in this series!  As my mother said, why had I waited so long?  And I see the author is an alumna of Rice's Publishing Program just as I am an alum of Radcliffe's; clearly she is a kindred spirit, but my time selling Berkley and then Avon did not overlap with her.

What I disliked: It was hard to keep some of the characters straight but that is probably the result of listening in the car. However, I wasn’t listening so much for clues to the murders but to get a feel for Duncan’s relationships and the appealing Yorkshire setting.  It didn't feel like the first book in a series: I wondered what had gone on with Duncan prior to his promotion to Superintendent.

Source: My favorite bookstore, the New England Mobile Bookfair, had many of Crombie’s books on hand but often fails to keep the early books in a series on hand (bad business practice and not the first time I have noticed and complained to them) and I could not wait for them to order it. I started out with the CDs but when the fifth CD got stuck I made a quick trip to the library where I found the original Scribner’s hardcover for the last three chapters.

*It is a sort of rule that detectives’ vacations are always ruined: either they get a call regarding some murder or disaster just as they are heading out the door or, as here, the murder follows them on holiday and prevents them from getting much needed relaxation.

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