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A chat with author Deborah Crombie

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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There’s no place that Deborah Crombie would rather live than Texas — and no place she’d rather write about than merry old, murder-filled England.

It’s hardly a secret that Crombie is a native North Texan. It says so in the author bio in the back of all her bestselling Scotland Yard mystery novels. She was born in Dallas, grew up in Richardson and lives in McKinney, her home for the past 20 years.

Yet when Crombie meets her readers at book tour events, speaking with a Texas accent, someone inevitably feels compelled to tell her, “I can’t believe you’re not English!”

It’s a comment that Crombie — who visits Keller on Tuesday, Sept. 23, for two events benefiting the Keller Public Library — never tires of hearing. To her way of thinking, it’s confirmation that her annual research trips to London have paid off and that her writing, down to the very last turn of phrase, is authentically English.

“It’s the ultimate compliment,” she says.

Crombie’s Keller appearances will coincide with the publication of To Dwell in Darkness, her 16th novel featuring the detective duo of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. The book, published by William Morrow ($25.99), officially releases the day of the event.

Her 2013 mystery, The Sound of Broken Glass, was the book chosen this year by Friends of the Keller Library for its third annual, communitywide “One Book, One City” initiative. (Last year featured O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark’s Killer Ambition, and the inaugural event highlighted The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry.)

Ahead of Crombie’s Keller appearances, we chatted with the author about her work.

What compelled you, a dyed-in-the-wool Texan, to set your novels in England?

It was somewhere around 1989 when I got the idea for the first book ( A Share in Death, 1993). I was on holiday in Yorkshire with my Scottish ex-husband. We were driving around in a little market town called Thirsk. It was September, beautiful countryside, the trees were turning, just perfect.

We saw a quaint little Georgian country house that was a timeshare. So we stopped, went in and looked at the place. And I suddenly had this whole germ of an idea: Wouldn’t this be a fun place to set an updated version of a British country-house mystery?

Then I thought, well, if I have a mystery, I’ll need to have a detective. And there was Duncan. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if my Scotland Yard detective superintendent had a female colleague, somebody who would be very different? So I gave him Gemma, his sergeant, who is a working-class baker’s daughter from North London. And here they still are, all these years later.

Is it true that you initially had no plans of there being any romantic involvement for this duo? No clue that Duncan and Gemma would wind up being a married couple with kids?

That’s a development I sort of discovered along the way. In fact, in the first book, Duncan flirts with a lot of different women. I started to get a sense of something in the second book. By the third book, I had an idea where this was going. I loved it when I finally got them together. Duncan thinks it’s just wonderful, but Gemma thinks it’s the worst thing she could have ever done in her whole life!

I remember there was one reviewer who wasn’t enamored with all the domestic stuff in one book and wrote, “Unless you like kids and dogs, don’t read this book.” But that seems to be the minority opinion. A lot of my readers seem to be just as invested in Duncan and Gemma’s family life as they are in solving the crime.

What is the new book about?

There is a protest group at St. Pancras International, the refurbished train station which is now the Eurostar terminal. There is a young man who, according to other members of the protest group, was supposed to be setting off a smoke bomb while the protesters were demonstrating, but he burns himself up with a white phosphorus grenade.

So Duncan — who was transferred out of his longtime post with no explanation at the end of the previous book ( The Sound of Broken Glass, 2013) — has to investigate and find out if it was an accident, if it was a suicide or if it was murder. There also is a question of identity of the victim at the beginning of the story. In the meantime, Gemma has another case with her team from Brixton.

Does it boggle your mind that the 16th book in the series is coming out and you’re still going strong?

It does. I knew with the first book that I wanted it to be a series. So I made some very definite decisions that would allow me to have continuing characters that grew and changed and had relationships like real people. But I certainly didn’t imagine that more than 20 years later I would still be doing this.

There are other writers who are more prolific than I am. But still, 16 books! And I’m starting my 17th! And the best part is that it’s still enormously fun.


6 p.m. Sept. 23

Sky Creek Ranch Golf Club

600 Promontory Drive


For ticket information, visit www.kellerfriends.org.

There will be an opportunity for the public to meet Crombie at a book discussion and signing at 3 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Keller Public Library, 640 Johnson Road.

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