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!