Deborah Crombie published her first Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid/ Sergeant Gemma James novel, A Share in Death, in 1993; the 15th book in the series, The Sound of Broken Glass (reviewed below), was just released by Morrow. Previous books in the series have earned Edgar Award nominations as well as Agatha and Macavity Awards. Although she travels to England several times a year, Crombie lives in McKinney, Tex., with her husband, Rick Wilson, two German shepherds and three cats.
Your books star Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James. In your latest, The Sound of Broken Glass, Duncan is home on family leave and Gemma's investigating a murder. How do you decide which of them will lead a book's investigation?
I always wanted Duncan and Gemma to work as a team and didn't intend either of them to be "sidekicks." But now that they are no longer professional partners, it's become more difficult--although also more fun--to juggle which of the two has the primary role.
I wrote two books back-to-back that were primarily Gemma's stories [Where Memories Lie and Necessary as Blood] and in doing so found I had been too long separated from Duncan. I loved being more in his point of view in No Mark Upon Her. But the circumstances in The Sound of Broken Glass dictated that Gemma would have a stronger lead in this book.
I think it will be quite obvious at the end of Broken Glass who gets the lead in the next book!
Your books have been set all over England (in Scotland, in Cambridge; and in London locations including Greenwich and Notting Hill). Do you pick the location to fit the crime or does the story develop to fit the locale? Any sneak peeks as to where your next book may be set?
Location or story first? It varies from book to book. In No Mark Upon Her, I wanted to write about competitive rowing, and there was no setting more appropriate than Henley-on-Thames. In Broken Glass, I wanted to write about the Crystal Palace area of London, and I had a story to tell about a particular character, so I meshed the two things together.
As for the next book, I know where it will take place, but it would be a big spoiler to say more. I think I can say that the book is set in London, and in a really rich and wonderful part of the city.
(It also gets harder to move Duncan and Gemma realistically out of their "patches," without doing "busman's holiday" story lines.)
Speaking of England, are people usually surprised to find that you're from Texas? Do you spend a lot of time in England?
People are very often surprised to know that I'm from Texas--until they hear me talk....
But I do spend a lot of time in England. I usually go a couple of times a year for three- to four-week stays. It's a long time to be away from home, but absolutely essential for the research, and for what I think of as my Brit "topping up."
Fans of your work often recognize minor characters reappearing in different books. For example, Andy, a musician who first appeared briefly in Where Memories Lie, plays a big role in The Sound of Broken Glass. Do you intentionally add minor characters to use later, or do they evolve more organically?
Oh, I love this question. It's much more an organic process. I think Erika Rosenthal was the first to appear as a very minor character--someone Gemma talks to about a case--in A Finer End. But Erika kept appearing in subsequent books, and the more I saw of her, the more I found I wanted to know about her. And so I wrote her story, Where Memories Lie.
Andy, now, was more a case of love at first sight. He walked onto the page in that same book, Where Memories Lie, strictly as a witness to a murder who provides Duncan with a valuable piece of information. And I was instantly smitten with this young man who cared so much about his music. Who was he, really? What was his back story?
While I was writing the next two books, Andy made small appearances, setting the stage for the story I had begun to develop for him in Broken Glass.
There are other characters, lurking in the background, that may someday get their own book, but it has to feel right, and to mesh with Duncan and Gemma's continuing story arc.
Animals are important to Gemma and Duncan and to you. Do you foresee any new dogs in their lives or yours?
I think Duncan and Gemma's lives are a bit full up with the two dogs, the cat and the three kids! Well, maybe there is room for another cat.... And they do get to visit Jagger and Ginger, German shepherds belonging to their friends Tam and Michael. (Do you see the rock-and-roll theme here? And a German shepherd theme?)
As for us, we lost our 14-year-old German shepherd, Hallie, in early October. (Our younger shepherd, Neela, is seven.) In November, Dax joined our family. She's a red-and-black German shepherd, now four-and-half months old. I call her "Intergalactic Puppy Dax"--she has her loyal following on Facebook.
Do you have a typical writing schedule? Are your dogs a help or a hindrance?
I've spent 20 years trying to develop a regular writing schedule! On an ideal day, I would write two to three hours in the morning, take a midday break, then write from midafternoon until dinnertime. But the closer I get to the end of the book, the more hours I write, and there are crazy days with 12 or 13 hours spent at the computer. Ouch.
As for the dogs, the puppy has certainly been a hindrance the last few months. (Like babies, everything revolves around the puppy's schedule.) But they grow up so fast, and every day is easier. She is happy to be in the room with me now, sleeping or chewing on a toy, as I write. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Deborah Crombie: Teamwork