Saturday, February 18, 2023

A Killing of Innocents (Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid #19) by Deborah Crombie: Reading Room Review


Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series is one of those treasures in the reading world that once you discover, you hold all other reading to its high standards.  It quite simply checks every box for what makes a mystery/crime book complete.  The mind of an author, especially a mystery/crime fiction author, is a place we readers long to visit, to see just how that character or plot or determination of who the murderer is comes to fruition.  With Deborah Crombie, we know that the authenticity of her setting is formed by her time spent in London, researching for each book.  The rest, the make-believe is a magic that, while I’d love to catch a glimpse of it as it is spinning in her brain, I’m just as happy to see it all come together in a book I both can’t put down and don’t want to end.  A Killing of Innocents follows suit of the previous stories, giving readers an exciting police procedural, an authentic setting that pulls you in, characters who are masterfully developed, pacing that builds suspense and reveals in perfect rhythm with the story, and, of course, a story that keeps you spellbound.


On a late, rainy November afternoon, Sasha Johnson, a doctor trainee, is pushing through the crowd of subway commuters in Russell Square when someone knocks up against her hard and she falls onto the grass, having been fatally stabbed.  DSI Duncan Kincaid is called to the scene with the only witness a young child who saw the woman fall but nothing else.  Surrounded by people, the victim was felled without anyone seeing anything unusual.  The young woman is a stranger to Duncan and Doug Cullen, his sergeant, but a stranger they had seen in a nearby pub where they’d stopped for a drink.  Young, beautiful, and a part of the medical profession, they are clueless as to why anyone would want to do her harm.  She had been alone at the pub, but had also seemed to be waiting for someone.  Since the crime is knife-related, Duncan calls in his wife, DI Gemma James, who is delighted to be called away from her new desk job as head of a knife crimes task force.  DS Melody Talbot, Gemma’s second-in-command, also becomes somewhat involved in the case.  The identity of the victim is no mystery, since her purse and wallet were not stolen and left with her.  But, who would want this young woman dead?  Was it a random killing or was she an intended victim?


Soon, Duncan and Gemma discover that Sasha Johnson has ties to a family they know, a friend of their teenage son Kit.  Wesley Howard’s sisters and Sasha grew up together as friends.  The young woman’s family is devastated, and there’s some question as to whether her brother is in with the wrong crowd and put Sasha in harm’s way.  While Duncan conducts the investigation and Gemma works at her new job, they have their three children and home life to juggle, too.  Kit’s school and his working at a friend’s cafe, seven-year-old Toby’s promising ballet advancements, and four-year-old Charlotte’s lingering fears from her biological parents’ deaths are all a lot.  Hints at some changes on the home front are set up for further exploration in the next book.  I trust the thoughtful parenting of this household to find solutions to balance between devotion to the job and devotion to the children. 


There is no shortage of suspects and theories in Sasha Johnson’s death, and this is where readers get to experience the police procedural at its best.  Lots of interviews and record checking and going over and over the same ground to get to the truth.  Family dynamics, roommates, and work relationships must be untangled.  Duncan’s team are all vital to the successful outcome of this case, each contributing information and leads.  One of my favorite parts of the investigation in this book is the brief undercover operation Gemma and DI Jasmine Sadina do together.  I was thrilled to see more of Jasmine in this book and be surprised by a few things.  Speaking of surprise, you won’t see the final twist coming that reveals the guilty, and you will enjoy every moment of being led astray by those pesky red herrings.  The investigation is complicated by another murder, and by determining whether it and Sasha’s are connected or if there are two separate cases.  Multiple characters tell this story, but there is never any confusion who is doing the telling, and the flow is a smooth, seamless continuation of plot.  Even the italicized flashbacks of an unknown female character don’t distract, and, as readers will discover, are an integral element.      


The characters just don’t get any better than the ones in this series.  Gemma and Duncan are both so level-headed.  It seems no matter what is thrown at them, they tackle it together in a calm, sensible way, and they always consider what is best for their whole blended family, not just themselves.  And, how Gemma and Duncan came together and how they came to be the family that they are is such a wonderful love story of unselfish bonding.  Fans of this series are rightly devoted to the success of this endearing family.  The secondary characters, who are connected to Gemma and Duncan through their work and their personal lives, are so much more than “secondary” characters with whom they have a casual relationship.  All these diverse characters who have come together through cases and personal means have become part of an extended family, too.  Deborah Crombie has developed all her characters with careful attention to these threads of connection.  I can never get enough of them, and when specific story additions occasionally become permanent characters, it’s because the author has carefully seen their purpose for the already established group.  Even the temporary characters for each story are revealed with deliberateness and mastery as the story unfolds.  Deborah Crombie simply can’t create a character who isn’t interesting.  I thought the interwoven connections of the new characters in A Killing of Innocents was particularly intriguing, and the revealing of the deadly connection was brilliant.   


In trying to read all the new books coming out and always being behind in that, I don’t have time to re-read series.  In fact, I’m still trying to find time to fit in series I’ve not started yet that are on my must-read list.  However, lately, I’ve been thinking how very much I’d love to re-read the Gemma and Duncan books from start to current.  I do know for certain that if I were faced with that often-posed question for avid readers of what books would you want with you if stranded on a deserted island, I would choose this series without hesitation.  A reader might feel it a daunting task to start a series that already has nineteen books in it, but I guarantee you that it will be one of the best reading decisions of your life to start this series at the beginning.  Of course, for those of us who have been enthusiastic fans and readers of the series for years, each new book is reading bliss that we cherish.  And, I will admit that you could read A Killing of Innocents without having read anything else in the series and thoroughly enjoy it.  Of course, if you do that, you’ll be hooked anyway and will read the previous books.  A Killing of Innocents now takes its place in the long line of outstanding crime fiction from Deborah Crombie, and I can hardly wait until the next installment. 


  1. I've just ret-read the first four and it's so much fun to look over their shoulders as Duncan and Gemma move toward their shared future - I know more than they do! The major thing is, Deborah Crombie has never put a foot wrong. The characters then are the same characters, depended by experience.

  2. Susan, thanks for commenting. I am really wanting to read the first ones again soon and then maybe do some audio. I bet it's fun knowing more than Gemma and Duncan. I think you've found the perfect sentence to describe Debs' writing in "Deborah Crombie has never put a foot wrong."

  3. “Both couldn’t put it down and didn’t want it to end” was my dilemma also.

  4. I have just been thinking about re-reading the series. Love those characters!

  5. I just finished it! Crombie has a way to transporting us to her London world that is just amazing. And there is love and kindness and enduring, real relationships in her stories. Just love her books!