She’s still at the top of her game

Taking for granted the quality of a suspense series is easy, especially after 15 books. When a writer produces that many novels with strong procedural elements, expert characterization and a powerful sense of place, we tend to assume she will continue in that vein.

Sadly, that’s not always the case, but Deborah Crombie never falters. Her novels are a delight, and with The Sound of Broken Glass, she keeps her impressive creative streak intact.

A Texan who writes about Great Britain — she has lived in England and Scotland — Crombie started this series about London police detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James 20 years ago, entwining details of their lives with well-constructed, evocative mysteries and fascinating glimpses into the great city itself. Here she sets her story in Crystal Palace, the neighborhood that grew around a cast-iron and glass building erected in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and destroyed by fire in 1936.

Back when Crombie introduced them, Duncan and Gemma were work partners whose attraction grew too hard to ignore. Now, they’re married with three kids (his, hers and a newly adopted daughter). Duncan is taking his turn at stay-at-home parenting — their daughter, Charlotte, is struggling to adjust to school — while Gemma returns to the job.

Her first case? A barrister is found naked, tied up and dead in a sleazy Crystal Palace hotel. Gemma and her sidekick, Detective Sgt. Melody Talbot, set out to investigate, but when an acquaintance of Duncan and Gemma’s turns out to be linked to the case, Duncan finds himself unofficially involved, his Mr. Mom duties interrupted.

Crombie’s novels often examine how the past influences the present, which dovetails nicely with her depiction of London as a city in which history still lives and breathes. Here, alongside the present-day case work, she teases out the story of a lonely, music-loving teenage boy growing up in Crystal Palace with an alcoholic mother. He’s befriended by a neighbor but runs afoul of a couple of bad seeds whose actions will have repercussions. Even when characters appear only in one or two of her books, Crombie fleshes them out with substance and skill.

As the body count rises, Crombie makes the domestic crises of a busy family as compelling as the whodunit; Duncan and Gemma disprove the usual wisdom that once you get the lovers together, they’re no longer interesting. In Crombie’s sure hands, they remain the heart and soul of this entertaining series.

Connie Ogle is The Miami Herald’s book editor.

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