Garden of Lamentations
GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS marks the 16th installment in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being the longevity of the two Scotland Yard detectives who, over the years, began mixing the personal with the professional. One cannot help but note that it is difficult to believe that Crombie has kept this complex and sequential universe going for so long, so frequently and so well. The other reason is that this latest volume puts paid to a secondary storyline that has been running through the series for a long time while also featuring a complex primary mystery that gives a new twist to a traditional plot line. The concoction makes GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS a winner in every possible way.
One must start somewhere with two storylines, so let us begin with the new one. A young woman is found murdered in the private gardens of a posh London subdivision. Her name is Reagan Keating, and she is employed by one of the households in the subdivision as a nanny. Reagan had been out with friends the night before her murder, and no one recalls her coming home. The outside gate to the gardens area is kept locked, with only a gardener and one of the residents having the key. Both have solid alibis, so the presence of Reagan’s body, displayed within the impenetrable fence, constitutes a “locked garden” mystery, as one of the characters conveniently notes.
"...a winner in every possible way.... [A]nyone who enjoys classic mysteries and police procedurals will find much to love here and in previous installments of the series."
Gemma is assigned to the case because of a personal connection, as Reagan was also the part-time nanny of a child who attends the same dance academy as one of Gemma and Duncan’s sons. As Gemma and DI Kerry Boatman, the lead detective, dig into Reagan’s private life, they find that the young woman was well liked by all, and in fact may have been too well liked. Not all of her friends, it develops, were of her own quality. There is another aspect to the case as well. A very unpopular boy in the same neighborhood experienced what was classified as an accidental death a few months previously, and there appears to be a strong possibility that both deaths are connected in some way.
Meanwhile, Duncan is busy on a case with links that go over two decades into the past. Denis Childs, Duncan’s former supervisor and friend, has resurfaced after abruptly transferring Duncan elsewhere and taking a leave of absence. Denis arranges a meeting with Duncan, during which he gives a partial explanation for his actions and delivers a cryptic warning. After the meeting, Denis is brutally attacked and grievously injured. Duncan begins an investigation based upon what little information Denis had given him, going back into the past and reviewing a number of mysterious deaths and suicides of police officers that had occurred long ago and more recently.
In doing so, Duncan places himself, his family and his co-workers in danger. The secrets involved are varied and buried deep, and those who wish to keep them concealed will, as they have demonstrated, do anything to achieve that goal. In the meantime, Denis is unable to help as he lies comatose in a hospital bed. Duncan races against time to resolve the mystery and hopefully stop the killer, whose chain of victims has claimed far too many.
GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS wraps up everything neatly by story’s end. The mystery concerning Reagan’s death is self-contained. Newcomers may find the complex dealings of the Denis Childs attack tough sledding, though one with a bit of persistence will figure out who is who before getting too deep into the thicket. Still, anyone who enjoys classic mysteries and police procedurals will find much to love here and in previous installments of the series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 10, 2017