Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie (thoughts)
I spent most of today socialising with my mother, which was wonderful, but means I’m a bit exhausted. So I made it easy on myself and chose to write about Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie. As I said yesterday, Crombie and her mystery series were one of my very favourite discoveries of last year. If you haven’t tried her yet, you have no idea what you’re missing!
Crombie is American, Texan actually, but she’s also lived in the UK and her mystery series is set there: Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are both detectives working in London. According to her biography, she travels there several times a year, and the sense of place is one of my favourite aspects of her writing. Each novel is steeped in its own particular locale: be it a London neighbourhood or a different English city, Crombie brings them all to life with exquisite, loving detail. I expect I could draw maps based on her novels and go on walking tours without getting lost: she’s that precise. She also weaves in the history of the area, and without ever becoming pedantic, she makes the locations another character. I love it.
Of course, I wouldn’t have read ten books in six months without also being in love with the characters. We get to spend time in the heads of both Gemma and Duncan, and they’re both just so damn loveable. Not to say they’re perfect: they each struggle with their own issues and occasionally make mistakes. But I’m always rooting for them, and thrilled when they manage, with honesty and goodwill, to sort out their troubles yet again. I will say I think it’s fairly important to read the books in order, as Crombie develops their characters in response to various events, and it’s nice to have that background knowledge.
And the detectives aren’t the only well-developed characters: these are psychological mysteries, with a deep component of developing the lives of each suspect, as P.D. James does. Sometimes we get to spend more time with a certain player, but even the minor characters are deeply memorable. Often, Crombie weaves past events in with the present, showing how powerful history can be. And while her plotting style varies from book to book, there’s always a thread of the traditional puzzle mystery, in that the reader knows all of the suspects, has all of the clues, and can figure out the killer if she picks up on them.
In short, this is a dream series for me. I usually begin the next one as soon as I get it from the library, and it takes considerable self-control to only request one at a time. Obviously, I can’t recommend it highly enough to mystery lovers and suggest they begin with A Share in Death and read them in sequence from then (Wikipedia has a helpful list of the titles in published order). But even those who don’t usually care for mysteries will find a lot to enjoy if they’re fans of contemporary literature. The writing, characters, and plotting are all top-notch: what more do you need to enjoy a book? If you’re not a mystery person and don’t care about reading the series in order, but want to give her a try, I’d suggest Dreaming of the Bones, which includes literary pastiche and a double mystery set amongst Cambridge dons. A bookworm’s dream!
Edited to add: I just realised I didn’t talk about the specific book at all. Whoops! There’s not a lot I can say without giving away series developments, but this one involved canals and the people who live on narrow boats and travel about them, and I loved that. It’s funny reviewing series, especially when you’re as spoiler-phobic as I am. But there you go. ;)