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Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie (thoughts)

January 13, 2014


Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie
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. ;)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2014 4:50 pm

    I’ve just realised I’m a few books behind in this series and placed an order with the library. I agree with you pretty much 100% and would happily read any type of book Deborah Crombie cared to write,

  2. January 13, 2014 5:37 pm

    I found and loved Crombie long before i started blogging. Glad to share your delight of her and to learn of a new book from her. Gemma is a favorite example of mine about, how in recent books, women juggle both jobs and employment.

  3. January 13, 2014 6:45 pm

    I’ve heard good things about this author from other bloggers too. I am usually reluctant to start series books, for fear they’ll suck up all my reading energy and time, but I am seriously considering trying these ones!

  4. January 13, 2014 8:34 pm

    I’ll be adding this one to my list for the next trip I take! One of my fondest-ever camping trip memories was the trip where I discovered Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody mysteries. I read the first four of them on one camping trip, and didn’t do any camping activities at all. It was lazy, yet glorious.

  5. January 13, 2014 9:52 pm

    I discovered this series in 2009, when there were twelve in the series, and I read all twelve over the next month or so. Her newest book comes out in March – it’s the one I’m most looking forward to so far this year, especially after the cliff-hanger of the last one. It’s so lovely to find other fans!

  6. January 14, 2014 7:41 am

    I am so very glad I read this post. When you mentioned this series yesterday, I sort of thought it was something I’d probably like but, as I tend to like my mysteries to be of the thriller/suspense variety, not something I needed to immediately add to my wish list. This post proved me wrong…you’ve left me wanting to try them very much indeed! :) And thank you so much for mentioning what the first book is so I didn’t have to go digging.

  7. January 14, 2014 9:09 am

    I’m most of the way through this series too (started reading them out of order some years ago, but then began again at the beginning of the series last year) — I’ve just finished reading Necessary as Blood. Be sure you download the short story “Nocturne” (which is free from at the moment) before you read No Mark Upon Her. I hadn’t realized the short story existed until I checked the series list on LibraryThing, which your post inspired me to do, so thank you!

  8. January 14, 2014 10:11 am

    I just added this to my wish list. I don’t read a lot of mystery series, but it is nice to have one mixed in. I will see what I think soon. :)

  9. January 16, 2014 1:39 am

    So interesting to hear your review of this series. I admit that I am a horrific cover snob and though I’m sure I’ve seen a few of these books at the library, they have always been so gross Mass Market Paperback-y that I have never bothered to inspect them more closely. I’m curious about how you discovered them in the first place. And since I trust your taste in mysteries as being similar to my own (though we do disagree about Tana French), I will definitely keep more of an open mind about them the next time I see them.

  10. January 19, 2014 1:51 pm

    I have to say that you have most definitely sold me on this series. I’ve actually been searching for a new longer series to delve into. I love getting the opportunity to meet a cast of characters and spend some time going on multiple adventures with them.

    Even more, I love books that take me to faraway places. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel all that much yet so I love books taking me away.

  11. February 21, 2014 7:46 pm

    I had read a book in the middle of the series and loved it, and then decided to go back and start at the beginning of the series, and somehow it’s taken ages to get the first book. I have the first 6 now, and a few of the later ones, so as soon as I finish with a couple of other series I have been working on, I’ll be picking this one up again. I am delighted that you have found a mystery series you love so much, Eva!

    I really like the writing in this series, and how the characters are done. I look forward to catching up with it very soon!

  12. February 21, 2014 7:51 pm

    WordPress ate my first comment, so I’m trying again. I am so thrilled that you love this series, Eva. I first read it some years ago, the middle book in the series, Dreaming of the Bones, I think it was called. I loved it. I decided to go back to the beginning of the series, and only recently have I suddenly realized that I have to start it! lol I have collected several now, so I’m planning to read this from the beginning during this year.

    I am so happy that you love a mystery series, Eva!

  13. April 3, 2014 6:21 pm

    I just finished my first Crombie, the Water and Stone one, and I have to say that at times the writing was very very good…. I loved some characters and real- life situations but honestly? The scene in the pub where Juliet’s husband is so childish kind of lost it for credibility for me….plus the fact that it took him how long? to believe that his business partner was stealing funds?? Loved Althea’s character also, but another fav. character of mine dies…(sigh)….but, (esp. after seeing your review), will give this author a few more tries!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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