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Sun, Jan. 22nd, 2006, 04:50 am
Reading List: In A Dark House

Read: In A Dark House, Deborah Crombie.

Ordinarily there’s nothing I hate more than picking up a series in the middle - but I didn’t realize that this London-based cop-duo mystery was actually the tenth (yikes!) Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novel. It was an interesting experience, actually, to come into the story in the middle. It was clear that the main characters, and their friends, have a past together. What was odd was how incomprehensible and unclear the stories of their lives were, coming into them in the middle - and it occurred to me how much more like life that is than the neatly packaged story arcs of most literary characters’ stories.

As a reader, I didn’t really care that Gemma’s best friend had moved away, or that Duncan was having some issues with his parents. These characters weren’t important to me, because I hadn’t built up the long-term relationship with them that the author was clearly building on. And at the same time, I loved the sense that these incidents really had nothing to do with the plot of the book, but rather were glimpses into these characters’ lives. It was because these incidents meant nothing special to me that they seemed authentic, because I don’t know anyone whose life fits neatly into a sensible tale in terms of who they’ve loved, left, hated, quarreled with, and forgiven.

That said, I didn’t think that Duncan and Gemma were particularly well-portrayed characters. They just barely miss being two-dimensional, mostly by dint of clearly struggling not only with their professional lives but also with their family and with the day-to-day business of getting laundry done and food on the table. (A little more to the left and they would have been caricatures, though - Gemma the conflicted career woman and Duncan the emotionally withdrawn cop who’s seen too much.)

The plot was somewhat better, putting this particular mystery a cut above your average cops-with-romantic-tension story. Crombie evokes modern London extremely well, even if she occasionally tends to be a bit too clever (the theme of this particular book was “places related to Dickens”). The multiple plotlines - an arson, a murder, and a kidnapping - weave together in a fairly sensible way. Even if the resolution of the plot isn’t entirely satisfying, with a bit too much coincidence in the setup of the crime for my liking, Crombie keeps things unravelling at a nail-biting pace, with plenty of believable red herrings and cliffhangers. I’m usually about fifty pages ahead of the revelations in your average mystery, but Crombie kept me guessing (mostly) until the big reveal.

The book was good enough that I plan to go back and read the rest of them - but not good enough that I plan to do so immediately. Part of that might be because I’m burning out on mysteries and thrillers, though. They’re my preferred “I am so stressed out” reading, and I’ve been pretty anxious about starting this semester so I’ve been reading a lot of them. I suspect next time I get really stressed out I may come back to Ms. Crombie, too.