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HALLIE EPHRON: Today, yes TODAY! Deborah Crombie's fantastic new mystery featuring the much married Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, "The Sound of Broken Glass."
Full disclosure: I loved this book! I was thrilled to read an early copy, and two of the things that stick with me are the characters and and incredible sense of place. I particularly got attached to Nadine and Andy -- she's a young teacher, he's just thirteen and a brilliant musician, and they're both damaged goods. It seems such an unlikely place to start the novel, and yet it works. How did they come to you?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Andy walked onto the page three books ago, as a very minor character in Where Memories Lie. He was only meant to be a witness to a murder, but he started talking in my head, the way characters sometimes do, and I found I knew just enough about him that I wanted to know more. In the next book I discovered that he had a personal connection with Duncan and Gemma, through Charlotte, and that let me set the stage for telling his story.
Nadine, now, I'm a little reluctant to confess about that, for fear of being thought whacko. I dreamed her. This was certainly my strangest experience as a writer.
When I say dreamed, I'm simplifying. I woke about four in the morning--this was just after I'd finished the previous book, "No Mark Upon Her" --with no recollection of having dreamed, but with a great chunk of what became "The Sound of Broken Glass" in my head.
I'd known some of Andy's back story, and that I wanted to set the book in Crystal Palace, but suddenly I had Nadine. I got up, got a notebook, and wrote like made for about five hours, knowing that even as I did, some of it was slipping away.
Things changed in the writing of the novel, of course, but the core of the story remained, and more than anything, the atmosphere.
HALLIE: Your series stars DI Gemma James and DS Duncan Kincaid, now married with kids including an adorable three-year-old foster child who's lost her birth parents. Gemma's got a promotion and Duncan stays home with the kids. Gemma's colleague is Melody, a smart female detective. They're investigating the murder of a man found naked, trussed, and strangled in a seedy hotel. Talk about role reversals! Was that deliberate?
DEBS: The previous book, "No Mark Upon Her," was much more Duncan's book, so I certainly meant to give Gemma more focus in Broken Glass. She has a new job, she's working with Melody, and I liked the fact that it was all-female team. And I had fun with Duncan experiencing the joys and frustrations of the stay-at-home dad. As for the trussed up barrister, maybe that was my subconscious at work again!
HALLIE: Another character I fell in love with is Poppy -- she's young, dresses like a Betsey Johnson nightmare (fur-lined boots, flower-patterned tights, ruffled skirt, puffy jacket, spiked hair.) She's confident, cheeky, and uber talented with a smoky alto voice. Tell us where she came from?
DEBS: Oh, I love Poppy. She's a vicar's daughter, a musical prodigy. She's smart and funny and confident of her own talent. As well as singing, she plays a fretless bass guitar--no mean feat.
Where did she come from? Hmmm. I wanted Andy to play with a younger female vocalist, a girl with huge potential.
I watched a lot of videos of young British female singers. That helped me work out what kind of voice I wanted her to have, but in the end, Poppy wasn't really like anyone else. The clothes might be her bit of rebellion--or she might just have great marketing instincts...
A funny thing -- I already knew her name was Poppy when I bought a handbag by a designer named Poppie Jones. I still have the tag on my fridge. So Poppy became Poppy Jones.
HALLIE: There is a rich sense of a place, past and a present, that permeates this book. Tell us about Crystal Palace. Is it somewhere those of us who go to London as tourists might have been to?
DEBS: I have a friend who moved a few years ago from the Notting Hill area of London to Crystal Palace, and he kept telling me I had to set a book there. When I went to visit for the first time, I was hooked.
As the highest point in South London, it's somewhat geographically isolated, especially in bad weather (as we see in the book!) That alone gives the area a unique character, but I was also
fascinated by the history of the Crystal Palace and by Crystal Palace Park. There is something so atmospheric about the ruin of something that was so remarkable.
I was also introduced to Antenna Studios, the recording studio where Andy plays with Poppy, and it was just too great not to use.
While Crystal Palace is certainly off the usual tourist path, I'd highly recommend it on a NICE day. (When it's cold, it's colder in Crystal Palace. The winds swirling around the hill can be ferocious.) Have lunch or a drink at the White Hart, which is the White Stag in the book. (I only changed the name because I'd named some of the staff.) Have dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Joanna's. And wander down the steep little alleyways. You might just stumble across Antenna Studios and The Secret Guitar Shop.
HALLIE: Music is everywhere in this book, and I have to ask if you have performed or played? And maybe give us a play list that would go with the book?
DEBS: I am, unfortunately, both completely untalented and musically illiterate. Maybe that's part of why music fascinates me so much. My husband does play the guitar very well, however, and I've given Andy his acoustic guitar, the Gibson Hummingbird.
I read every guitar-player autobiography I could find, and talked to guitarists, song-writers, singers, and producers. Such fun research. I hope readers enjoy it as much as I did. And I listened to a lot of
music. Here's a fun--if slightly bizarre-- playlist on Spotify.
HALLIE: Congratulations on a fabulous book. Where can readers catch up with you on tour?
DEBS: Thanks, Hallie! I'll be in Houston, Phoenix, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas. Here's a link to the specific events.
And if readers want to know more about Crystal Palace, there are wonderful images on my Facebook page:
Note: In the photo, I'm camping it up in the rehearsal space in Antenna Studios. You can see a bit of the view down the hill in the background. Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne
HALLIE: Well, all I can say is I want what Debs is eating before she goes to bed so I can have her dreams. I confess, I wake up with a great idea, scribble down the idea, and in the morning have no idea what the heck I was talking about.
Anyone else have the great luck with dreams that Debs does?