Deborah Crombie, “Necessary as Blood”

What a terrible title! I still can’t figure out how it pertains to the book, and it’s the kind of non-sequitur that I know won’t ever stick in my brain. Nor does it tell you anything about the novel. Maybe we Deborah Crombie fans are just supposed to grab the next one regardless, like the Sue Grafton books, whose alphabetical titles are pretty thin on the information, too.

Next complaint: there’s a little too much going on here. Crombie has created a rich and satisfying environment for her Scotland Yard detectives Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. We’ve got their respective kids, their bosses, their underlings, their friends — even their vet appears in this one. It all hung together and everyone’s appealing enough but there just aren’t enough pages in the book to do justice to the supporting characters and the plot.

For this book Crombie turned to London’s East End, which clearly fascinates her. In fact you could say that the neighborhood around Shoreditch and Bethnal Green is one of the protagonists of the novel, because it throws together an unlikely mix of characters who end up interacting in interesting ways. The plot is not actually complex — Sandra Gilles, an English artist and mother, is married to Nasir Malik, a Pakistani lawyer. One day Sandra mysteriously disappears. A few months later, Naz also vanishes, and it’s at this point that the Yard is called in. The candidates for baddie range from Sandra’s unsavory drug-dealing brothers to a mysterious club owner to a smarmy veterinarian. The novel doesn’t really spend enough time on the various options — one of the reasons I like the traditional procedural is that I enjoy witnessing the detectives winnowing the evidence, bringing their keen observational skills to bear on the various suspects. In this novel the villain doesn’t spend enough time on our radar for us to actually engage with him, or with his evil deeds. That part all feels sketched in. Overall, Crombie is such fun to read that I could almost overlook this flaw. Will Gemma marry Duncan? Will Melody tell her father to buzz off?  Yet — why should I be worrying about this when there are dead bodies lying around?

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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