IN A DARK HOUSE
Deborah Crombie

 


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Pan Macmillan Australia, This edition first published Dec 2006
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill

A fire in an old warehouse in London isnít such an unusual occurrence. What is different about this fire is that when mopping up afterwards, fire-fighters discover a badly burnt female body. Their first thought is that it is a homeless person, seeking shelter, but there are no clothes on this body and no sign of any belongings. This is when Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is called in.

Kincaid is under pressure. He is facing a bitter custody battle over his son with the parents of his late ex-wife and he is still coming to terms with the miscarriage his partner D.I. Gemma Jones had not so long ago.

Winnie is a church minister and an old friend of Gemmaís. She is filling in for an ill colleague in an inner London parish. One of her parishioners, the wheel-chair bound Frannie Liu, telephones Winnie and tells her that her carer, Elaine, hasnít come home. Elaine is a creature of habit and has never done this before and Frannie is afraid something has happened. Could the body in the warehouse be Elaineís? If it is, what on earth was she doing there?

Meanwhile in another part of the city ten-year-old Harriet is being held in an old dark house by a woman she doesnít know. Her parents are divorced and thereís a lot of bitterness between them and she is wondering why she is there and why they havenít come to get her.

If thereís one thing British crime writers do well itís the police procedural and IN A DARK HOUSE is British police procedural at its best. There are a host of clues and a number of events. The fun is in trying to work out which is part of the investigation and which is coincidental. How many of the threads are connected? Is there just one crime and everything is connected? Or are there two, three or perhaps more? Itís like a jigsaw with extra pieces from another puzzle. You have to figure out what belongs and then put them in the right order to solve the mystery. I managed to get three quarters of the way there. And you have to pay attention. Towards the end of the book I read a seemingly innocuous sentence. About three pages later I had an AHA! moment when suddenly that one sentence made things clear.

One thing that isnít always easy to get right in crime fiction is creating the right balance between the mystery and learning about the characters and their private lives. Learn too little about the protagonists and you donít really care about them. Too much time devoted to their lives and it slows down the plot. Deborah Crombie has managed that balance very well. The only minor quibble I had with the book was that the solution felt just a tiny bit anti-climactic. Then again, I suppose real life investigations are often like that.

With the holiday season fast approaching, IN A DARK HOUSE is just the thing for an absorbing and entertaining read.

December 2006 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

[Note: Since writing this review I discovered that the author of IN A DARK HOUSE is in fact from the USA. This makes her flawless portrayal of British detectives even more impressive.]

 

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