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!