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.