I have Christmas mysteries sitting unread on the shelf, and I might have picked one of them up when I was looking for a crime story to read last month, but I didn’t. Because there’s a series that I love, I knew that I was a few books behind, and the pull of another meeting was old friends was much stronger that the pull of seasonal trappings.
‘The Sound of Broken Glass’ is the fifteenth book in in the series that spins round Metropolitan police officers Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. When the series started, Duncan was a newly promoted Detective Superintendent at Scotland Yard and Gemma was his sergeant. They worked well together, they understand each other perfectly, and in time their their professional relationship grew into a deep and abiding love.
They kept that to themselves for a while, but they both new that they had to do the professional thing; and so they made things official, and their career paths separated.
That changed the character of the series. In the most recent books the story has followed one or other of the pair as they worked on a major case while the other played a supporting role; sometimes on the home front, occasionally with a sub-plot, and frequently with past experience of a suspect, a witness or a similar case that relates to the major case in hand. It works well.
This story begins as Gemma is returning to work after taking a period of parental leave to look after the little girl the couple has been fostering, since she was orphaned as the consequence of a crime in an earlier book. Duncan is taking his own period of parental leave and Gemma is settling in to a new job in a South London murder team.
It falls to Gemma to investigate the somewhat sordid death of a barrister, in a cheap hotel in Crystal Palace. The circumstances suggest a very obvious solution, but, as the police team carried out its investigations, it became clear that there was more to this case that met the eye. As is often the case in this series, the crime was the consequence of events that had happened many years earlier.
A schoolboy, the son of an alcoholic single mother, formed a friendship with the young teacher who had moved into the house next door. She encouraged him to work towards his dream of becoming a musician, until one day she disappeared without saying goodbye. He did become a musician, he was a witness – and maybe a suspect – in the Crystal Palace hotel murder, and Duncan knew him as witness in and earlier case and as the protégé of a friend.
The story in the present and the story in the past were well told and they were both compelling. At first they seemed so disparate, I couldn’t think how that would come together, but it gradually became clearer. The plot was very well constructed, and I really didn’t know it would play out until the very last pages. I turned the pages very quickly, because characters I had come to care about – and not series characters, the characters caught up in the story of this crime – were in jeopardy.
The characters are so well drawn that I can easily believe that they were living their lives in South London, before and after the events in this book; and that city is evoked just as well.
My only issues were that a significant suspect was introduced rather late in the story, and that a certain aspect of the latter part of the story felt rather contrived. Taken as a whole though, this was a very good police procedural.
When I read the last book in this series I was concerned that the balance between the personal and the professional was a little off, bit this time it was right. Gemma and Duncan built a family, with a child each from previous relationships and a child together, and they had a diverse circle of friends. This book moved on the stories of some of them, mentioned some of the others, and left some of them to get on with their lives. It worked beautifully, and I could happily read these books just to catch up with characters introduced in earlier books.
There were moments when I wondered if the family’s domestic life ran a little too smoothly; but I decided that following a couple who got on well and made their relationship, their family life and their professional lives work for them was a lovely change from the norm.
As the story wound down I thought that I could happily move on to the next book in the series very soon. An unexpected cliff-hanger on the very last page made that essential.
I’ve thrown the Christmas mysteries into a charity shop bag, and I have that book on hand …