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by Deborah Crombie
Macmillan, August 2009
320 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1405090553

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When a brooch which she last saw when fleeing from the Nazis over 50 years previously turns up in an auction house catalogue, Erika Rosenthal turns to her friend Inspector Gemma James for help. The request could not come at a worse time for Gemma whose mother has just been diagnosed with leukaemia. Then one of the staff at the auction house is killed in a hit-and-run incident and the case ends up with Gemma's partner, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid. Between them Gemma and Duncan, with the assistance of their police side-kicks, unravel a mystery which reaches back to the war, and track down a ruthless killer.

Deborah Crombie's James and Kincaid series is something of an enigma in that the entries within it tend to vary quite substantially in terms of quality. Fortunately this is one of the better efforts. There are quite substantial soapy elements here which will appeal most to series aficionados; anyone coming to this as their introduction to Gemma and Duncan might find them not only intrusive, but also feel that they are missing out. However that is the inevitable price to be paid for soapy elements and in WHERE MEMORIES LIE the complications of Gemma's relationship with her mother - very close - and her father - distant and angry - are well-handled. Crombie also does the children, Kit especially, well. Best of all are the two police side-kicks; Doug Cullen who has been crossed in love, and Melody Talbot who cannot reveal her true identity. I have obviously missed these character's introductions to the series so I do not know what this secret identity is that Melody cannot reveal it; an aristocrat? Daughter of the Police Commissioner? Whatever the case it makes a good and intriguing story. Indeed it is the aspect of the book which has stuck with me most, which may not be altogether high praise.

The first half of this book verges on the very good and the reason for this is that Crombie uses a lot of narrative viewpoints - Erika, Gemma, Duncan, Doug, Melody, Kit, Gavin (the policeman who investigated the death of Erika's husband David in 1952), not to mention a girl from the Auction House. The strength of this technique is that it constantly keeps the attention and interest and when well-done, as it is here, is very pleasing to read. It also keeps the reader away from noticing that there is a lack of psychological depth to Crombie's writing. I have always found the comparisons between Crombie and George somewhat absurd and very lazy; they are based I presume on the simple fact that they are both American authors who set their mysteries in the UK. But whatever other criticisms may be levelled at George, lack of psychological depth is not one of them; indeed it is the hallmark of her writing.

The problems with WHERE MEMORIES LIE only start to emerge in the book's second half as Crombie concentrates her attention on the main plot. It is not that the theme of misdeeds with long roots stretching back to Nazi Germany is overused; in a purely numerical sense it may be, but as a subject it is so powerful and important that I would hesitate to ever say this. However because it has been covered so thoroughly and brilliantly it is inevitable that comparisons get drawn and these do not work to her benefit; her writing simply does not have the depth to sustain this sort of comparison. The theme is not badly handled and her villains are both memorable. But by venturing into deep waters the limitations of the prose are exposed. WHERE MEMORIES LIE will be an attractive addition to the James/Kincaid series for fans; for newcomers the first-half in particular is an involving and engaging read. It is a book which demonstrates both Crombie's strengths and her limitations.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, December 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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