Book review: To Dwell in Darkness, by Deborah Crombie

Jumping into a series with book #16 is an odd thing.

I’m usually principled against starting mid-series; I have this idea that I ought to appreciate a series as the author intended it, by evaluating their first book without the bias of familiarity with ones later in the series, and without any inkling whether her skill grows or dwindles. But I can justify jumping in mid-series two ways:

  1. With the perspective that I’m evaluating this book as a stand-alone, as some people will inevitably read it, and to see how it holds up without prior experience with the series
  2. Nothing I’ve requested has come in at the library and I’m ready to try anything decent to get me through my commute

So, in this case: book #16 of the Duncan Kincaid / Gemma James mystery series will throw you into the midst of quite a menagerie of characters, all intertwined and caring deeply for one another while you don’t care enough yet about any of them.

In my case, it helped to mentally replace them all with Harry Potter and his generation of friends and classmates. Like a Muggle detective AU of the series. Duncan, the lead, is obviously Harry; Ginny is his wife (Gemma), and they have their passel of kids (two boys and a girl, even); Doug is Ron, Parvati is his new lieutenant, stern and suspicious of his work ethic. Seamus and Dean are the gay couple, and Luna is their neighbor. It was a fun exercise that got me through the first part of the book, anyway.

As for the story — it took a while to get me hooked, but the writing was solid, and it eventually focused on plot rather than just how these characters are feeling for each other. Before that point, I only kept listening because I was desperate to know when the St. Pancras trains would start running again (what a clusterfuck, shutting them down like that — all those people stuck in trains under the Channel!). I was also skeptical at first of the St. Pancras trivia leading each chapter — especially since the first few chapters’ quotes were credited to Wikipedia, which does not seem very…serious. But they got better, with more diverse sources.

So it turned out to be a competent mystery novel, though a little different from the series I’ve read lately (i.e.,  Cormoran Strike and Kinsey Milhone), in that the detective has a spouse and family. And that did indeed become a compromising feature of this book (and I can’t imagine it was the first time).

I was shocked when Duncan introduced Ariel (whom he’d only met twice before and solely as a connection to a ghastly murder/suicide by immolation, one that he was investigating, along with a passel of her friends; I mean, he knew her boyfriend was the one who went up in flames) to his entire family, including wife, teenage son Kit, and young children. By name. He let her sit down and have a drink with them as they ate lunch. It seemed weirdly reckless.

And it bit him in the ass when she showed up at his house, deliberately when Kit was home alone — apparently for the sole purpose of being vaguely sinister with their new kittens and setting off Kit’s alarm bells. Pretty considerate of her, on the whole.

Her eventual arrest went smoothly, too — too smoothly. I was particularly displeased with their weak parting lines, when she whispers, “You’ll be sorry” to Duncan, and he returns with the scathing, “No — you’ll be sorry.”

That is not how it should have gone at all. Her final exit should have been her sing-songing the names of all his family at him. “I’ll be thinking of Gemma and Kit, that sweet sap! How’s Tobias doing? Little Toby? And widdle baby Charlotte?” All horrible and taunting, like Bellatrix Lestrange. I want to see what he’d do then, how he might break or struggle to restrain himself. Maybe Saldana (the Parvati character) would hold him back.

I’m not a huge fan of femme fatale characters, as you’ll see in my reaction to Gone Girl, but there are times when I do appreciate a woman who is there just to fuck everyone up. Especially when men are being idiots, like in this case.

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