It is related historically that Deborah Crombie has never received the correspondence that authors dread most: a rejection slip. It is easy to believe. Crombie is a native Texan whose long-running Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series is set in London. THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS is the 15th in the series, and one would swear from the prose and the tone that Crombie was a native. While no stranger to England --- she resided there for a time and returns at least once per year --- she also truly gets the terrain and all that is on it.
"While the twists and turns of the case are extremely interesting and keep the pages turning rapidly, the real star of the book is the ghostly omnipresence of the long-gone Crystal Palace itself...and the popular music scene that developed around the area in the latter half of the 20th century."
Crombie brings a fresh perspective to this latest installment of her series, making it one of her best to date. Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are Scotland Yard detectives; Kincaid is a Detective Superintendent while James is a newly minted Detective Chief Inspector. They are currently on alternating leave in order to take care of their children. So it is that James is assigned to lead an investigation, assisted by her colleague, Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. The case is a doozy, to say the least. A respected barrister is found murdered under extremely compromising circumstances in a downtrodden hotel in the Crystal Palace area. It may have been a murder, or a death by misadventure, so to speak. Either way, he could not have been alone when he died (such would have been impossible), and as a result, James and her team must find his companion de jour and make a determination. But the discovery of another body in almost identical circumstances seems to resolve the issue of an accident as opposed to intent rather quickly, and the hunt for the doer begins in earnest.
Meanwhile, it develops that Kincaid, though tasked with being a stay-at-home dad for the course of this investigation, just can’t leave things alone. Actually, it is the case that comes to him. It seems that Kincaid knows some of the players who are the subject of the investigation and becomes involved. He must do so on the down-low, however, primarily because Scotland Yard’s policy forbids married couples to work together on an investigation. Kincaid and James, working the case from different angles, soon discover things beneath the London social strata and are taken to places and corners that they never anticipated.
While the twists and turns of the case are extremely interesting and keep the pages turning rapidly, the real star of the book is the ghostly omnipresence of the long-gone Crystal Palace itself (the building was destroyed by a fire in the mid-1930s) and the popular music scene that developed around the area in the latter half of the 20th century. Crombie introduces each chapter with an interesting factoid about the Crystal Palace area, such that one begins to anticipate these almost as much as new revelations concerning the investigation. Its strong procedural elements, as well as the interaction between the two principals of the series, ultimately make THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS well worth reading.
Crombie has not been afraid of developing and evolving the personal and professional relationships of Kincaid and James over the course of the series, and she continues that practice here. In fact, the final paragraph contains a bombshell that will leave first-time and longtime readers of the series eagerly anticipating the next book to see what happens and why. Be there, and in the meantime, please visit the prior volumes in the canon to see what you might have missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 22, 2013