Thursday, October 09, 2014

Judge a Book by its Cover?

I have recently noticed how dichotomous my reading life has become.

Since my day job has me in the car for about 20,000 miles each year, I am always listening to audiobooks.  In an average month, I check out six to ten of them from the library.  Though my library is part of a larger library consortium and I can get virtually any book I want by simply reserving it online, I do this infrequently.  I prefer to walk into the library, browse the extensive collection of audiobooks on the shelves, and make my selections.  I give priority to authors whose work I know and like, but if I don’t find something new by a familiar author, I am happy to start browsing the blurbs on the covers until I find something that feels like I might enjoy it. 

Physically reading a book, on the other hand, is a bit of a luxury to me.  I don’t find time every day or even every single week to sit and spend quality time with a good book, either on paper or on my Kindle.  So when I do, I want it to be a great experience.  Thus I am much more likely to splurge and buy the newest release from one of my favorite authors in that format, even if it means it might be a week or two before I shake loose the time to sit and enjoy it. 

I hadn’t even been aware of this until I read some comments on a blog about how strongly people are affected by the cover of a book.  As I thought about it, I realized I exhibit this dichotomy.  Since I am always on the prowl for new audiobooks, the write-ups on the covers of those are really important to me.  But the lovely artwork that graces print books is less so, because I am usually selecting those based on the author or a good review or a word-of-mouth recommendation. 

It’s a system that works for me.  I have discovered many new authors whose works I thoroughly enjoy by sampling one of their audiobooks first.  Since the personal investment seems so low, I find that if I listen to the equivalent of the first few pages and I find I really don’t like it, I have no qualms about giving up on that one and putting in the next.  And it is nice to be able to ensure that those golden times when I can sit and read uninterrupted long enough to get lost in the pages always give a high return.

So I’m curious, my reading friends:  how random are your book choices?  Are you driven by known authors and reviews and recommendations, or do you do random selection, literally “choosing a book by its cover?”  Is there a difference in how you approach different forms of books?  Do other people out there even DO audiobooks?  Do some treat their Kindle reading different than books printed on paper? Inquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Book musings

Much as I love reading in the traditional sense, I actually do a majority of my reading on audiobooks. That's because I have about a 25 minute commute each way every day, and my day job involves frequent drives of as much as two hours each way. Years ago, I realized that listening to a good book in the car drastically reduces the stress of driving. So I read, on average, four to eight books a month in the car, via audiobook.

This week, something very unusual happened. I bailed on a book because of the voice actor. And it wasn't that she was reading badly. I just found her voice singularly ill-suited to the book. So ill-suited, in fact, that I decided it was going to ruin the book for me.

Normally, I am amazed at what a great job these voice actors do. And really, this one wasn't doing a bad job. It was just the quality of her voice. The protagonist, in whose voice the story was told, was supposed to be an experienced, nationally known broadcaster. This actor's voice had a sexy, almost purring quality. It sounded absolutely unlike a trained broadcaster. After about two chapters, I decided the incongruity was going to ruin the book for me. And since it was by Kate White, an author I always enjoy, I felt it was in my best interest to wait until I get time to read this one the old fashioned way.

In other book news, I've had a minor quandary. I've been working on re-reading Kincaid and James series by Deborah Crombie, and writing reviews of them here. But life got busy and so far, I'm only through book seven. Now she has released book 16. I had hoped to get through all 15 before this one came out, but I didn't. There is some part of me that feels like withholding the treat of the new book until I re-read the rest. But I am going to overcome that urge. I absolutely love these books, and care about the characters like they are real people. As soon as things calm down enough that I have the time, I will devour the new one. In fact, I can hardly wait!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day Means New Beginnings

New Year's resolutions are OK, I guess. But as a product of the American educational system, it is Labor Day that always makes my mind turn to new beginnings. Hey, I figure between my own education and that of my son, this makes the 36th fall I've gone through the “back to school” drill. So not surprisingly, I find myself gearing up to make some tweaks in my life.

It started off with the realization that once again, I have let my weight drift upward. I probably need to take off between 10 and 15 pounds, and this feels like a good time to do it. But then someone challenged my thinking about what I was going to do, pointing out that even though I really know how to take that weight off, I have yet to find a path that keeps it off. I really couldn't argue with that.

So I am finally following in the footsteps of many of my friends and trying to focus on a diet based more on whole foods. I'm not ready to go vegan, as some of my friends have, but I am going to try to focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains, cut out processed foods as much as possible and minimize my reliance on red meat and even poultry. And actually increase my fish intake. The funny thing is, if you had asked me I would have said that I had been moving my diet that direction already. But the truth is, I had been for my main meal of the day. I cook lots of great dinners that are full of vegetables and whole grains. But breakfast, lunch, and snacks? Without realizing it, I had slipped into patterns of way too many processed foods.

So today I did my weekly grocery shopping and also stocked up on beans and nuts and whole grain products. I figure it will help me if, when I find myself faced with an unplanned meal or snack, I have healthy ingredients on hand to choose from. I spent close to two weeks' grocery budget, but I don't think that supports the old saw that eating healthy is more expensive. It just means I stocked up on a lot of things that will be “amortized,” so to speak, over coming weeks' budgets.

But as so often happens, once I started thinking more positively about changes in one area, I began to get inspired in others. I have observed over the years that when I feel like I'm taking good care of myself, I find myself more competent in every area. How do I keep letting that lesson slip away, having to be discovered over and over again? Anyway, I was able to identify some other areas, little things that maybe only matter a lot to me, that I can also improve. So I'm feeling pretty upbeat.

Thank God, Bob is wonderfully flexible and supportive and willing to go along with these whims. (Truth be told, he's probably been doing better than me lately at trying to make healthy choices for himself.) Sam is off at school where my food and daily lifestyle choices don't affect him, and while Warren does live here, he joins us for meals less and less often as he discovers his independence. So I don't foresee any systemic impediments to staying the course.

Thus it is that even though we are coming into a very chaotic, busy work season for me, I am setting out to maintain some sanity and control through wise lifestyle choices. And shed some weight in the process. I guess after posting this, I'll have no choice but to check back in near the end of the year and confess to you all how it worked out!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Reunion Thoughts

Well, I said I was going to start blogging on midlife, and surely there is nothing more midlife than a 40th high school reunion. I attended my husband's reunion with him last night. I was not a member of the class of 1974, but close enough that the kids in his yearbook look interchangeable with the kids in mine. Same hair and clothing styles, same cultural touch points. Since it wasn't my class, there was absolutely no stress on me – I had no memories to reconcile with present day reality, no concerns about what anyone would think of me,no past to live down or live up to.

Of course one of my observations is that by a 40th reunion, most of those petty concerns fall away anyway. As one of Bob's classmates put it, “At this point we're just glad we're alive!” I suspect for any class at a 40th reunion, the reality is there is a large enough contingent of deceased classmates to bring home that reality. But beyond that, there just seems to be a realization that shared history is a precious thing. It is exciting to meet someone who remembers the same things you do. I would see Bob's face light up as some old story was told that he hadn't thought of in decades.

Several hours into the party I was standing chatting with another wife of a class member, and nearby someone was updating a friend on his mother's recent health issues. I pointed out that I had been hearing variations on this conversation all night. Sadly, this was probably the greatest shared reality of people 40 years past high school graduation – that our parents' health is failing, and we are suddenly thrust into the role of caring for them or making sure care is provided.

Of course there was conversation about kids and grandkids, but I notice that the tenor of those conversations was a lot different than when we were younger, too. There was a time when parenting could quickly become a competitive sport – my kid is so good at this and that and has won these awards, blah, blah, blah. But that wasn't the way people were talking about their kids this time. They tended to be much more real, while no less loving. It was more like, “My kid is here or there, does this or that....wasn't sure I liked the choice, but I just want her to be happy.” Or, “He's still wandering but we think he's going to be OK.” I guess it just feels like by this point, we've finally figured out that our kids are separate from us, they are who they are, and their choices aren't a reflection on us.

We had a great time. One of his classmates said as we were leaving, “Tonight seems almost less about finding old friends than making new ones.” There was some truth to that. There were people at that party that we would enjoy going out with in another context, and it just might happen.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

And Justice There is None by Deborah Crombie

In this, the 8th installment of the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series, Gemma has just assumed her new role of Inspector at the Notting Hill station when the wife of a prominent antiques dealer is found murdered outside their home. Unfortunately, the manner of death looks very similar to an unsolved case of Duncan's, so before she knows it, he is working with her on the combined case -- both blessing and curse.

As always in Crombie's writing, the case is full of well-drawn, three-dimensional characters who have complex, intertwined lives that it takes a while to figure out. But this time there's a wrinkle: Duncan has arranged for himself and Gemma to sublease a house in Notting Hill, thus combining their two families and moving forward in their life together. But that means that the interesting characters in this case are not just suspects and persons of interest – they are their new neighbors, people with whom they will need to interact over the long haul.

I found this case particularly intriguing. It involves a very complex back story that slowly unfolds, and even though it is complex, it is believably so. I didn't figure out “who dunnit” until the big reveal, and as tends to happen when characters are well written, by the end my heart ached for many of them – so much suffering for events that transpired literally a lifetime before.

At this point I want to discuss another big part of the ongoing subplot of the title characters' life, so I'm issuing a SPOILER ALERT. Don't read on if you don't want to know the next major plot twist in Duncan and Gemma's life together. Just stop here with my recommendation that this is definitely a book worth reading.

Seriously, I mean you – don't just peek at the beginning of the next sentence unless you want to know!

At the end of the last book, we learned that Gemma was pregnant. Throughout this book she comes to terms with that reality. It is the catalyst that leads to Duncan and Gemma combining households (that plus the fact that Kit finally comes to live with Duncan full-time) and it impacts her work relationships and pretty much everything. But in the final pages of the book, Gemma loses the baby. I think that this was a wise choice on Crombie's part. The introduction of the pregnancy allowed her to break through Gemma's stubborn reserve and accept moving in together much sooner and more easily than would have been plausible. It made a lot of good things come together in this one book. But realistically, having the baby would have been really, really challenging to incorporate into future stories. I know that brave policewomen everywhere DO go back to work and put their lives on the line again with an infant at home – but I think having Gemma do so would have fundamentally changed the flavor of this series. The choice that was made is a better one, and it set the stage for the many good things to come.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On gray hair and email and new direction

The other day my boss, a lovely 30-year-old I like a lot, was surprised to learn that I have a blog and asked me if I write about anything special. The sad part of this story is that I kind of stammered and muttered something like, “Not really. Lately it has mainly been book reviews.” Which was absolutely true. Any of my few long time readers could tell you that I have long lamented not having a passion to drive my writing. So my blog has tended to be a little of this, a little of that.

But I feel like that might be changing. Increasingly, I find that my age is kind of a big deal in my life. I'm 55 years old. Somehow, 55 feels really a lot different than 50 did. I mean, 50 kind of felt like an extension of the 40's. I was still interested in all the same things, and people didn't seem to perceive me differently. But in the intervening five years, that has changed. Admittedly, I may have accelerated the change by allowing my hair to go natural. Meaning, gray. Which makes a surprisingly big difference in how strangers treat you. I'm beginning to understand the old cliché about how older women become invisible. Plus my son and my added on son have reached their 20's, so I'm not mothering in the classic sense any more.  I feel more like a coach or something.

Also, I changed day jobs. I went from a fund raising position at the Girl Scouts to a similar one at the Boy Scouts, both organizations I respect tremendously, just because there was a higher level position available and hey, I'm paying college tuition right now, you know? I didn't expect it to make as big a difference as it did. But at least in my particular council, Boy Scout professionals are young. I am surrounded by 20-somethings most of the time and honestly, I feel like Methusaleh. It is amazing how often things come up in conversation that highlight the difference in our ages.

But today, I had a win. Overnight the national organization migrated our email from one server to another. This meant we had to jump through some hoops this morning to get our email activated again, and then there were a bunch of instructions that had to be followed to get our phones and other remote devices to sync again. I am proud to say that I was the first person in the office to get my email working again and, once our IT support person came in and told me that getting the phone working again would entail deleting the old account completely and starting again, I was the one who figured out how to accomplish that for the Android phones, too, and ended up getting to talk several younger colleagues through the process. It felt great to NOT fit the stereotype!! 

I realize that mid-life blogs are all over the web now, so I don't get any bonus points for originality. But I don't think I care. I'm just going to try to put it out there, talk about how this age feels to me. If people like it, that's great and I'll enjoy knowing I have some readers. If they don't, that's probably OK too. I think I will feel better just having a place to vent and a chance to process some of this stuff. So let the mid-life blogging begin!

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

I just finished A Finer End, Deborah Crombie's seventh book, continuing the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. It is set in a small village that has a long tradition of mystical experiences and other-worldly communications. One of the residents of the village just happens to be Duncan Kinkaid's cousin, which makes it convenient for Duncan and Gemma to be called in when the mystical happenings begin to take on some all-too-physical manifestations in the form of an attempted murder and a successful one.

I have a soft spot for mysticism and religion, so I enjoyed the main story line. But I can't help but feel that more than any of the first six, this book might not be everyone's cup of tea. From the early introduction of automatic writing (where the writer is completely unaware of what he is writing, just serving as a vessel through which a spirit can communicate) to ending up in more or less of a quest for the Holy Grail, there's a lot that is metaphysical. Which is not to say that there isn't also a basic mystery, with lots of characters to sort out and evaluate and care about. So there really is a lot there for the average mystery reader, too. And of course, Deborah Crombie's writing is as evocative and compelling as ever. I feel like I've really been to the location and met the characters in real life.

The story of the protagonists' personal lives continues to develop as well. Moving the focus away from the introduction of Kit, which has been the central point of the back story for several books, we find Gemma facing a big personal challenge in this outing. By the end she has made a decision and shared it with Duncan, but there's lots of angst in getting to that point. And lots of unanswered questions about where it will lead moving forward. (Which, as I've said before, is why I enjoy series like this one. I like the juxtaposition of a freestanding mystery in each book against the ongoing story of realistic, messy, three-dimensional character lives.)

I am still enjoying the exercise of re-reading this series, and am excited to see that a new one, To Dwell In Darkness, is being released in September. If I haven't made it through them all by then, I will probably have to take a break from this process to read it. I mean hey, I have to check in on my friends, you know?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kissed a Sad Good-Bye by Deborah Crombie

As part of my ongoing project to re-read all of Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kinkaid/Gemma James series, I just finished Kissed A Sad Good-Bye, her sixth book. It's been a hectic couple of months for me and I had trouble making time for extended reading periods. I had feared that this was going to put this book at an unfair disadvantage, but I needn't have worried. It was far too good a book to be ruined, even by frequent interruptions.

Unlike the previous entry in the series, here the ongoing back story of the main characters stays well and truly in the background. Yes, we see moments in each of their personal lives, and the relationship with Kit that was introduced in the previous book moves along, but slowly and never as the central focus of the book. Gemma's inner life and private side probably gets more of our attention than Duncan's, and certainly more than usual.

Early in the book Duncan and Gemma are called out on a murder case, and that case is the meat of this book. In many ways it is just a very good, standard police procedural. But one thing that makes it different is that interspersed with the story of the case, there are short installments on another story, set in World War II. We follow a young boy as he is evacuated from the East End of London and sent to live on an estate in Surrey. Though the snippets make good reading, the author takes a long time to reveal that there is any connection between these historical snippets and today's case. Even after we begin to see some connections, the real significance of the World War II story doesn't come through until the very end of the book. Then, at last, the pieces all come together to form a satisfying picture and we realize that today's action could never be understood without knowledge of those long-ago events.

As always with Crombie's writing, the characters we meet are wonderfully three-dimensional, fully formed and human. From the dead woman who was either the perfect daughter, employee and fiancee or a promiscuous, disloyal, overly ambitious schemer to the beguiling clarinet-playing busker, with the shattered, ne'er-do-well bereaved fiance and the professionally competent but socially insecure female colleague – to say nothing of the frustrated detective inspector they are forced to work with, little though she may want their help – these people live and breathe and surprise us. And speaking of surprises, when we finally get to the inevitable “who done it” moment of the mystery, it is surprising indeed!

Deborah Crombie has done it again. Even though I've read the whole series before, even though I decided to read them again because I have loved them so much, I still find it a bit surprising how well they have held up and how much I am enjoying each installment the second time around. I can't wait to re-read the remaining eight. And I'm so excited to learn that this September a new one will be released!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie

In my continuing project of re-reading Deborah Crombie's entire Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series, I just completed Dreaming of the Bones. I remembered this one more vividly than I had the first four. Now that I've finished, I'm convinced that the reason I remembered it so well was that this one marked the spot where Crombie's already-good writing really ratcheted up a notch.

To discuss any of her books one has to address two aspects. There's the free-standing story of the book, and there's the ongoing character development in the back story of the protagonists. Honestly, given the strength of both those components, I'm amazed that these books haven't been made into a TV series by the BBC or PBS. (Though I may be glad they haven't, as I don't always appreciate their interpretations of books I've enjoyed.)

This story opens with Duncan getting a phone call from his ex-wife, Vic. He goes to Cambridge to see her and soon we are involved in her life at the college, meeting a variety of academic types and artists so well drawn I could easily see them and hear their voices. Vic is writing a biography of a poet who died five years earlier and has become convinced her suicide was really a murder, and as events unfold it becomes increasingly obvious to the reader and eventually, to Duncan and Gemma, that Vic's suspicions were well founded. Still, it takes them a long time to pull at enough threads to untangle the relationships and mysteries and begin to piece together events from the past that led to that murder, and others. When it finally comes out it is so believable and so consistent with the characters we've met that it is a very satisfying reveal indeed.

It is the ongoing back story that provides the challenge in writing about this series of books, since Crombie's characters really do grow and change over the course of them. Thus it is almost impossible to discuss the developments without including spoilers for those still on earlier books. So I will just say this: a new, permanent character is introduced and by the end of this book it is too soon to know if the effect on Duncan and Gemma's lives will be for the better or worse. Yet the way they react to the new character goes a long way to cementing for the reader who they are, both as individuals and as a partnership. I believe this book had stayed with me so vividly because it marked the point where I moved from liking these mysteries to being in love with them. For me, Duncan and Gemma stopped being another set of detectives and became old friends. I have picked up each installment since with the same eagerness I bring to letters from dear friends who have moved away over the years.

I know not everyone enjoys mysteries as much as I do, but I would say that if you are a reader, if you enjoy well-developed characters, then you will enjoy these books. Because while they ARE mysteries, and darned good ones, they are also just plain good novels.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reflections on Lent

Those of you who have followed my off-and-on-again blogging for a while will remember that for several consecutive years, I did my own separate Lenten blog.  Each day I would read the daily readings assigned by the church, reflect upon them, and write a blog entry about what they stirred in me. 

I stopped doing that blog a few years ago just because it felt like it was time.  The joy and spontaneity had gone out of it and it felt like drudgery or even worse, like a self-serving exercise.  So I turned my attention to other Lenten disciplines.

This year, I committed to myself that I would do a daily Lenten devotion.  The first few days of Lent I used some printed materials I had picked up at the Catholic Women’s Conference in February, but then I stumbled into some wonderful resources at the Creighton University Online Ministries website.  (  They have a section called Praying Lent that leads one through a daily devotion built on the assigned reading for the day, and I have found those devotions very good.  The reflection each day is written by a different member of the Creighton University faculty or staff and I have found them quite effective and thought provoking. 

There is also a link to a Lenten Online Retreat.  I’m sure to some that would seem like a bizarre mixing of concepts – isn’t a retreat where you go to get away from online stuff?  But I have found it extremely moving.  And in all honestly, I have probably given it only about 35% of the effort it deserves.  But even at that, it has made a difference for me.  It gives you something to think about and then tells you to try to hold that concept in your mind and heart and focus on it in the in-between-times of your day.  It talks a lot about letting these concepts work in the background as your conscious effort is going into the regular activities of life.  And while I feel like I’m only having so-so success at doing that, I can still feel the benefits. 

And today, after reading the daily devotion and the thought starters for the Third Week of Lent, for the first time in a long time, I felt motivated to blog about my journey.  I don’t succeed at staying focused on Lent and all it means every single day.  I don’t even succeed at keeping my Lenten discipline every single day, though I try and I don’t miss too many days.  But even with my failings, I feel God reaching out to me, reassuring me that he is always there, hearing the cries of my heart and filling my life with so much love and plenty that I am awed and humbled.  For me, this year, God’s messages are pretty strongly about hands-on how to live my life, how to walk the talk of my faith, how to see Jesus in the tangible, real-world needs of those around me.  I think that message varies based on who we are, where we are, and what we need.  But in Lent 2014, for me, that is the message I’m getting. So I just rededicate myself to trying to look for Jesus in those around me and to trying, in my own weak, humble way, to do what he would have me do.  

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Mourn Not Your Dead by Deborah Crombie

In my continuing quest to re-read the entire Kincaid and James series by Deborah Crombie,(big tip of the hat to for the challenge that started this) I just finished Mourn Not Your Dead

Their relationship strained by events of the previous book, Duncan and Gemma are called to a suburb to investigate the death of a high ranking police officer. Both had been acquainted with him in life, and they find that no one in his village seemed to find him any more appealing a character than they had. The plot unfolds with many questions, such as “Was his wife having an affair? And if so, with which of a couple possible candidates?” Or, “Was the deceased a dirty cop?” The investigation follows a believably twisting tale, solving a series of burglaries only to determine in the end that it was unrelated to the murder, and sending the protagonists back and forth between Surrey and London many times. The book is full of believable, three-dimensional characters that I quickly grew to care about. And as is so often the case in real life, the ultimate solution was heartbreaking, revealing painful secrets that would have far-reaching effects on many lives.

One thing I was immensely relieved about the first time I read this book was that by the end, Duncan and Gemma have resolved the strain in their relationship and the ground is well laid for the future. Now that I have the foreknowledge of what comes in future books, it was delicious to see the pieces begin to fall in place.

I have loved these books since I first encountered them, probably well over a decade ago, and I find re-reading only reminds me of the reasons why. Duncan and Gemma are well developed, realistic three-dimensional characters who don't always make the right choices but do always operate from a clear internal logic. Each case is complex and interesting and occupied buy people, not stereotypes. I strongly recommend these books for anyone who likes character-driven stories. I would honestly say that while they are great mysteries, that is secondary to their appeal as character studies. To start down the path with Gemma and Duncan is to make friends, and the more of them you read, the deeper the friendship becomes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie

For anyone who has missed the previous posts, I am re-reading the Deborah Crombie mysteries that I enjoyed so much the first time as part of a reader challenge from another blog. Last night I finished Leave the Grave Green, the third book in the series.

The mystery in this one really captivated me, and I'm pleased to say I really didn't remember enough of the plot to take anything away from my reading pleasure. (I read so many mysteries that I don't retain the details much. It is the characters that stay with me. And that's why I choose the authors I do!)

Leave the Grave Green begins with a prologue scene that occurs over 20 years before the main action of the story. I often find such scenes superfluous, but in this case it is really integral to understanding the characters involved when we meet them. Once we jump to the present, we also jump right into the action. No long exposition here!

Other than Gemma and Duncan, the Sergeant and Chief Inspector who are the constants throughout the series, this mystery is centered in the world of opera and of titled British gentry. There are lots of nice scenes where stereotypes are set up just so they can be knocked down, and lots of interesting tensions among the new characters and the ones we already know. And a mystery so well crafted that I never saw the solution until it was being revealed.

Here I run into a snag. The most interesting thing about this book, to me, is the surprise twist in the back story of the main characters. But since I anticipate that I have readers who have not read these yet, and are still deciding whether to read them, I don't want to include any spoilers. So all I feel at liberty to say is that the end is a big surprise, and since I've read the entire series before, trust me when I say that it all works out well eventually.   

Monday, January 20, 2014

All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie

Today I finished All Shall Be Well, the second in the Kincaid and James mystery series by Deborah Crombie.  I'm re-reading this series as part of a reading challenge at  I have already read and loved this entire series, so I considered this challenge a fun opportunity to enjoy them again and post reviews.

Having the perspective knowing how these characters will grow and change and how their lives will evolve, re-reading these early books gives me great respect for the way this author balances the mystery that is the current book with the slow, methodical development of the main characters in the background.  She very cleverly sets the central mystery of this one in the apartment house where Duncan Kincaid lives, providing an easy way to pull in more of his personal life without detracting from the main story.  Similarly, there are just a few scenes that involve Gemma James away from work, but they serve to flesh out her character a lot, too. It makes me wonder, idly, whether Crombie actually wrote them with an eye to a long-term story, thus taking her time with it, or whether at the beginning she just put in some background to add depth to the characters, and only after the books succeeded did she begin to chart a longer-term course for their lives. Either way, it works very well, proceeding at a wonderfully lifelike, unhurried pace.

The mystery itself is engaging and the characters involved in it feel very three-dimensional and real. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the least likable character, the obvious choice for the murder, ended up being guilty of nothing worse than being a bad human being, and that some of the other characters clearly grew within the course of the story, ending up stronger people than when the story began. The ultimate resolution is completely plausible and heart-wrenchingly sad.  My only tiny complaint was that, at the end, when Duncan got his flash of insight and "the pieces snicked into place in his mind with blinding clarity,"  I didn't feel like the author had given us quite enough information to have had the opportunity to have the same "snick into place." But it is possible, of course, that she did and this reader just wasn't perceptive enough to pick them up -- even on a second reading!  (Though separated by many years from the first reading.)  

I have already picked up Leave the Grave Green, the next book in the series, and will probably start it today, though looking at my calendar I can see it might be a while before I can spend any time on it.  Oh well, at least I have it to look forward to when time allows!

Friday, January 03, 2014

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie

I just finished re-reading A Share In Death, the first in the Kincaid and James mystery series by Deborah Crombie. As I mentioned earlier, I have read all 15 of these books, but am re-reading them in 2014 as part of a reading challenge at They have this cool graphic for the challenge:

What a delight this was!  Trying to avoid spoilers here, suffice it to say I have seen these officers' back stories grow through substantial twists and turns over the 15 books. It is a strange feeling now to go back and interact with them in this initial foray.  The characters were consistent with who they become over the life of the series, but there was very little foreshadowing of the direction their lives would take and how strong and effective their partnership would become.  Indeed, this first book is substantially about Duncan Kincaid, with Gemma Jones playing a very secondary role.

The book also stands perfectly well as a free-standing mystery.  Like many cozies, this one is set at a British country timeshare, (OK, the convention used to be a British country house, but timeshare makes it feel modern) where you naturally have a bunch of seemingly unrelated characters meeting for the first time and revealing little secrets about their workaday lives.  And it follows the rather standard mystery formula (which I love) of having the first murder occur quickly -- in this case, at the end of the third chapter.  Then it's a pleasant exercise in character development, clue-sorting, and logic, with a few well-placed red herrings.  By the end of the book the mystery solution was plausible enough to satisfy but creative enough to surprise, and the characters so well rounded that I actually cared what happened to them after I closed the book.

I can't wait to begin All Shall Be Well, the next in the series!