Crombie, Deborah. In a Dark House.

NY: Morrow, 2004.

Crombie makes a habit of finding, in each book in this generally first-rate series, a new topic to explore and a new location to do it in. This time, the subject is fire-fighting and arson investigations and the venue is the Borough of Southwark, south of the Thames

(which, at first, was merely the village anchoring the other end of the original London Bridge, and has never quite gotten over its resulting feelings of inferiority). There have been a series of structure fires in Southwark lately, but the most recent one, in a Victorian warehouse being renovated for luxury flats, also produced a heavily burned body. The warehouse is owned by the local Member of Parliament, which gets the case official attention, so Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is send over from Scotland Yard to lend a hand and keep an eye on things — much to the annoyance of DI Maura Bell, on whose patch he is reluctantly intruding. Meanwhile, Kincaid’s partner and housemate, DI Gemma James, gets a call from the Rev. Winnie Montfort (whom we first met in A Finer End, and who is now married to Duncan’s cousin) who is temporarily overseeing a parish in Southwark. Winnie is concerned about the abrupt disappearance of the housemate of one of her parishioners and calls Gemma for advice, but when she hears the whole story, and meets the diminutive Chinese woman who owns the house, Gemma begins to think the story is a lot deeper than that. So, naturally, she has to involve herself.

And that’s the set-up. A serial arsonist, a battered women’s shelter, a parental kidnapping, an MP in a panic over his daughter, and a possible psychopath are the principal ingredients. Crombie stirs them all together and produces what I think is one of her best books yet. (Even though she includes a rather uncomfortable number of coincidences in order to get Duncan and Gemma involved in the same case.) Some of the entries in this series tell the story at a somewhat leisurely pace — and that’s okay — but this one is tense and drama-filled from first page to last. And behind it all there’s also the continuing situation with Kincaid, the son he discovered only after his ex-wife was killed, and the complex problems of custody and blended families, which provides the reader with a nice point of comparison this time out. An excellent yarn.

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Published in: on 1 February 2013 at 6:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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