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Thursday, January 05, 2012

No Mark upon Her

I do not come to Deborah Crombie’s No Mark upon Her as an experienced reader of her Kincaid/James mystery series.  That lack of background allows me to point out that No Mark upon Her works very well as a standalone mystery – so well, in fact, that I am now thinking about starting the series from the beginning.  Crombie’s character development and side plots are that good.  Crombie fans, too, are  probably already fairly familiar with her background, but I was intrigued to learn that, like Elizabeth George, Crombie is an American (from the Dallas area) who sets her novels in and around London.  And, as with George, had I not been told that she is American, I would have assumed that she is British.

Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James have more in common than the paychecks they earn from Scotland Yard.  They are also a married couple trying to balance the Yard’s insatiable demand on their lives with the personal time they need to nurture their marriage and their two young children.  The family is, in fact, on holiday when Duncan is asked to help determine whether the death of Rebecca Meredith, another high-ranking Scotland Yard detective, is perhaps more than the accidental drowning it first appears to be.  That Meredith was an Olympic-caliber rower intimately familiar with the section of the Thames from which her body was pulled, makes it difficult to take her drowning at face value.

As his investigation progresses, Kincaid will discover that Rebecca Meredith probably had as many enemies as she had friends.  Unfortunately, some of those enemies work for Scotland Yard, and Kincaid begins to suspect that his superiors are more concerned about protecting each other and the image of the Yard than they are about tracking down the young woman’s killer.  Then, when his wife’s investigation into a separate series of crimes begins to overlap with his own, Kincaid is shocked by the number of suspects, some of them in position to end his career with Scotland Yard, he must work through.

Deborah Crombie
No Mark upon Her takes the reader deep into the world of competitive rowing, particularly as it involves those young men so completely invested in the annual race between Cambridge and Oxford.  Most American readers will, I think, be surprised at the lifetime’s worth of prestige accrued by the small group of men who earn the right to participate in that yearly event.  Win or lose, just having participated in the race can positively influence a man’s success for the rest of his life.  Few readers of No Mark upon Her will ever again see this competition as the college lark they may have previously perceived it to be.

Crombie’s in-depth exploration of the everyday demands on, and concerns of, her main characters makes them real.  These are not one-dimensional cops and robbers; they must deal with all of the complications of life that the rest of us face.  It is easy to see why this series has already extended to fourteen books and is still going strong. 

Rated at: 4.0 
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