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.