DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have been saying for years (many) that I was going to reread my own books, in order, from the beginning. Not that I haven't browsed through them for continuity issues (I should have browsed more thoroughly!) And I had actually reread a few of the books here and there, but not in any sort of order. There were always deadlines, and other books to read and things to write, and somehow I just never managed.
But this summer I decided I absolutely must, and I have to admit I looked on it as a bit of a chore. I was given a push by the fact that Rick, cleaning out an old box of floppy disks, found the disk with the original manuscript of A Share in Death. (This was 1992! Floppy disks! Word Perfect!) The sight of that little square of plastic somehow brought back the thrill of sending off that first manuscript, and of having it published. So I pulled out my hardcover copy.
This is the original cover! I didn't like it much at the time--I thought it was too cozy and made the book look like a period mystery (which it wasn't, then!) But now I think it is utterly charming. And then there's me on the back flap in my first-ever author photo, looking impossibly young and skinny!
And the book itself? It's been the oddest experience. Like meeting old friends too long missed, and at the same time having vivid little flashes of my own life as it was when I was writing the novel, and of Yorkshire, where the book is set. And although I know what happens I was totally caught up in the story.
A little synopsis: Overworked Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid takes up his cousin's offer of a week's holiday in a Yorkshire timeshare. But he can't escape work--first an employee is murdered, then another guest. He is compelled to solve the crime, enlisting the help of his new detective sergeant at the Yard, single mother Gemma James.
It has been fascinating to see those first glimpses of Duncan and Gemma, knowing that I had absolutely no clue how they--or their relationship--would develop. But the seeds are there. I remembered one particular scene as being my favorite when I wrote the book, and I found it was still. Here, Duncan pays a visit to the female police surgeon who has certified death for the two murders in the Yorkshire time share.
The single track road wound back toward the very base of the hills. Kincaid had left the Midget's top down and turned the heater up full blast, hoping the crisp evening air would clear the cobwebs from his brain. The sky looked faintly luminous against the opaque shapes of the trees.
Presently he saw the lights of the bungalow through the trees on his left and pulled the car carefully into the leaf covered drive. It was a low house of rosy-colored brick, with light streaming from the large French-paned windows either side of an arched front door.
The door swung open, revealing two small girls with dark hair surrounding heart-shaped faces. They gazed at him solemnly, then before he could speak they burst into a fit of giggles and ran toward the back of the house, shouting, "Mummy, Mummy!" Kincaid thought he'd better have a look in a mirror before long, if the mere sight of him reduced children to hysteria.
The room stretched the width of the house, with dining furniture to his left and the sitting room to his right. What he could see of a worn rug was liberally covered with doll-hospital casualties. Books flowed off the tables, a fire burned steadily in the sitting room grate, and the temptation to sit down and go to sleep became almost unbearable.
Anne Percy appeared, wiping her hands on her white cotton apron, and saved him from embarrassment. She smiled with pleasure when she saw who it was, then looked at him more critically. "You look exhausted. What can I do for you?" The little girls were peeking out from behind her like Chinese acrobats, only slightly subdued by their mother's presence. "Molly, Caroline, this is Mr. Kincaid."
"Hallo," he said, gravely. They giggled again, and swung out of sight behind her back in unison.
"Come into the kitchen, if you don't mind my cooking while we talk." She led him through the swinging door in the back of the sitting room into a large, cheerful room full of the aroma of roasting chicken and garlic.
Anne shooed the children out with a reminder that supper wouldn't be ready for a half hour yet, pulled up a tall stool for Kincaid, and went back to stirring something on the cooktop, all with a graceful economy of movement. "Drink? I'm having Vermouth, since it went in the chicken, but you look as though you could use a whiskey. Off-duty and all that. Is it really true that policemen don't drink on duty, or is it just a myth perpetrated by the telly?"
"Thanks." Kincaid gratefully accepted the whiskey she splashed into a glass, and after the first sip warmth began to radiate from the pit of his stomach. "And no, it's not true. I've known quite a few who do. Chronic alcoholism is just as likely to turn up on a police force as anywhere else, I guess. Maybe more so, considering the stress level. But I don't, if that's what you're wondering. Don't like to feel muddled."
"I know your rank but not your given name. I can't go on calling you Mister or Superintendent. Doesn't seem appropriate in the kitchen."
"It's Duncan." He grinned at her surprised expression. "Scots forbearers. And my parents had an inordinate fondness for Macbeth. It could have been worse. They could have saddled me with Prospero or Oberon."
"Lucky you. My family still calls me Annie Rose. It makes me feel three years old, not a grown woman with children of my own and a fairly respectable profession. My patients call me Dr. Anne. It makes them feel more comfortable."
"I'd settle for just plain Anne." He sat and sipped his drink while she moved from cabinet to cooktop and back, feeling the warmth of the room and the whiskey move through him like a tide. He felt as though he had been sitting on this stool, in this kitchen, for years, and could go on sitting there for as many more. Concentration became Anne Percy, he thought, watching her tuck her hair behind one ear as she stirred. She had the same heart-shaped face as her daughters', but the soft, fine hair was lighter, the color of demerara sugar.
She checked a casserole in the oven, then dusted her hands off and turned to face him, leaning against the counter. "Now. Everything should take care of itself for a few minutes."
Kincaid found himself at a loss, distracted by a floury smudge on her eyebrow. What he wanted from her was so formless, so nebulous, that he couldn't think where to begin. "I'm finding myself in a very awkward position. I've no official sanction to investigate either Sebastian's or Penny's death‑-not yet, anyway. And yet I'm involved, even more so than I would be under ordinary circumstances, because I knew them both."
Anne Percy studied him with the same serious regard she had given her casserole, and Kincaid felt suddenly uncomfortable, as if his face might reveal secrets he hadn't intended. "I've been known to lose my professional detachment upon occasion, too." Her apparent non sequitur, thought Kincaid, went right to the
heart of the matter. "I checked on Emma this morning, to see if she wanted a sedative or‑-"
"She didn't," Kincaid interrupted, smiling at the thought.
"Damn right, she didn't. She gave me hell. But she talked to me. People do, sometimes, when they're in shock. They tell you things that ordinarily they wouldn't dream of revealing. Emma had been worried about Penny's behavior for months, and it seemed to be getting progressively worse. Episodes of forgetfulness, confusion. It sounds like it might have been the onset of Alzheimer's, or some form of premature senility. I don't know if it's any comfort to you, but the quality of her life probably would have deteriorated rapidly."
"No," Kincaid said angrily, "no, it bloody well isn't. Whatever the quality of her life, no one had the right to take it from her. And I'm an utter fool. It might have been prevented. She tried to talk to me and I wouldn't take time to listen, because it wasn't my case, because I didn't want to take responsibility, because I judged her as foolish and ineffectual. I should have known better‑-it's my job, for god's sake. Now we'll never be sure just what she saw. The night Sebastian died, Penny waited until Emma fell asleep and then went downstairs. She'd forgotten her handbag and didn't want Emma to know. A silly little thing, but if she knew Emma was worried about her forgetfulness‑-"
"You think that Penny was killed because she saw something that would lead to Sebastian's murderer? That just one person is responsible for both deaths?"
"I think, from something Emma overheard Penny say, that Penny saw two people that night‑-two people not where they were supposed to be. Did she remember where she had left her bag, and slip into the sitting room in the dark? Did she see someone coming out of Cassie's office?
"Did they see her?" Anne asked, caught up in his reconstruction.
"Well, we don't know, do we?" Kincaid asked softly. "But I think not. Either the plan would have changed, or Penny would have died then and there. This . . . person . . . is a remarkable opportunist. It seems to me that neither killing was premeditated, not in the usual sense, but they were both done with great ruthlessness and a willingness to take almost insane risks. It was sheer, tremendous luck to have managed both these killings without being observed‑-"
"Except, perhaps, by Penny," Anne interrupted.
"Yes. But it's rather an odd profile. People who kill on the spur of the moment usually do it in anger and regret it afterwards. Those who premeditate like to plan it carefully and execute it from a distance, with as little risk of discovery as possible. Poisoners are the perfect example."
"Maybe this person has an inflated idea of his own invincibility."
"Could be, but I don't think these are random killings by a psycho, violence for violence's sake. There's an objective in this, a sort of single minded cunning." Kincaid laughed abruptly, then shrugged. "Sounds fanciful, doesn't it?"
"Possibly. But back up a minute, Duncan." Anne frowned, the smooth skin between her brows crinkling with her intensity. "If the murderer didn't see Penny, how did he know she'd seen him?"
"I think," Kincaid measured his words carefully, "that she told him." Seeing Anne's incredulous expression, he shook his head before she could interrupt him. "I know it sounds crazy, but Penny . . ." He searched for words that would make Anne see Penny the way he had seen her, hoping the whiskey hadn't made him maudlin. "Penny lived with scrupulous honesty‑-except perhaps in protecting Emma. She wouldn't have wanted to falsely accuse someone."
"You think she just walked up to this murderer and said 'I saw you. What are you going to do about it?' But that's‑-" Anne's voice rose with righteous indignation, and Kincaid thought he'd hate to be a patient who'd disobeyed a reasonable doctor's order.
"Foolish. And if Penny saw two people, she picked the wrong one to speak to first." Kincaid stretched and looked at his watch, took another swallow of the whiskey. "I should be getting back, just in case something turns up. Peter Raskin's taken some pity on me‑-if he hears the p.m. results tonight he might let me know. Thanks for letting me sound off." In spite of his words, he stayed slumped on his stool, swirling the remains of the whiskey in his glass.
"Stay for dinner. There's plenty. Tim's out on call so we won't wait for him. We never know how long he'll be."
"What does he do, your husband?"
"He's an obstetrician." She spluttered a laugh at the sight of his face. "Close your mouth. That's most people's reaction. But who could be more sympathetic to a doctor's schedule than another doctor, or a vet? Or a policeman," she added thoughtfully.
"Now I know where I went wrong. I should have married a doctor. My ex-wife wasn't sympathetic to my schedule at all." He finished his drink and stood, finding it a great effort. "I'd love to stay, but I'd better not. Maybe some other time." They stood, suspended in a brief awkward silence, then Kincaid reached over and rubbed the smudge from her eyebrow with his thumb. Anne caught his wrist and held it for a moment, then turned away.
"I'll show you out, then."
The children were arguing intensely over whose turn it was to bandage the doll, their faces rosy in the firelight.
"Goodbye, Molly and Caroline."
"Are you going to visit us again?" said Molly, curiously.
"I hope so."
"Come any time." Anne's fingers brushed his arm, light as down. As the door closed behind him Kincaid saw that all the light had gone from the sky behind the hills.
Although neither he nor I knew it then, it's clear that he was longing for all the things that would come to him later--a relationship, a family, a home. And reading this scene gave me serious chills because in the book-in-progress all those things are at risk.
I've almost finished reading the second book, All Shall Be Well, and while it's a little weird switching back and forth between reading the past and writing the present, I'm loving seeing the characters grow. I'll definitely be rereading the rest of the series--by which time there will be another book finished and that will make SEVENTEEN!
I want to know, fellow REDS, do you, or have you, reread your own books on a regular basis? And what did you think when you did?
And readers, do you reread series novels? If so, do you see earlier books in a different perspective, having read later ones? What are your favorites to reread?