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by Deborah Crombie
William Morrow, October 2003
384 pages
ISBN: 0060525231

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Gemma James is taking a weekend off from policing to go to Scotland with her close friend Hazel Cavendish. They are attending a cooking school at a newly-opened bed and breakfast. But Hazel is also going to visit her first love, the man to whom she was once briefly engaged, Donald Brodie, a distiller of fine single malt at Benvulin distillery. When Brodie is murdered, of course Hazel becomes the primary suspect.

There is a subplot paralleling the main story which takes place in 1898 at Carnmore, another distillery, and Benvulin. We learn of these events through an italicized segment at the beginning of each chapter.

Characters are the great strength of a Crombie novel. The ongoing characters are attractive and intriguing. Both Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, who comes north to support Gemma, are our old friends and we have watched them since they first began to work together through the decision to live together and the tragedy of Gemma's miscarriage. They learn and grow and are thus very believable.

The central characters of this novel are equally memorable: the hearty gratified distillery owner pouring his single malt for the guests; the new owner of the bed and breakfast enthusiastically cooking his creations; his wife whose domain is the garden; his younger half-brother who is surly and perhaps bitter; the suave Frenchman who is there to do business with Brodie; and the bitter and dissatisfied cousin of Hazel who manages the distillery for Donald. They all stay in my mind even when I have finished the book.

This is a new experience for Gemma. While she is a Detective Inspector in the Metropolitan Police, the Scottish police not only are not interested in her help but actually consider her a possible suspect for a time. She does poke around because that is her nature but at first the police are not especially interested in what she finds. Ultimately, of course, she discovers the evidence she needs.

The other story, the one from 1898, is also resolved, but only through supernatural means as Hazel seems to channel her dead relatives. Personally I do not like supernatural agents providing solutions in detective novels and so this made the book less interesting to me. You may happily disagree.

The setting is very well done. Crombie has a nice sense of place and we get a feel for Scotland and especially the Highlands and the remoteness of some of the small villages particularly during winter storms.

The plot is intriguing. The only suspects are those present at the bed and breakfast with the possible addition of Hazel's husband. First one then another seems to be guilty and the reader has the chance to dance after red herrings quite often. The final solution to the murder was believable and, once I thought back, I should have seen it.

So I enjoyed this book right up to the introduction of supernatural communication across the centuries. Everything else combined to make an intriguing and appealing story. So I will just ignore the little bit I did not like and recommend this novel to you.

Reviewed by Sally Fellows, December 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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