A huge congratulations to Jungle Red's own Deborah Crombie! Today marks the release of the 17th (!!) installment in her critically acclaimed Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series. I had the pleasure of reading the book, and it's fantastic. Readers old and new will not be disappointed; as the Minneapolis Star Tribune says "betrayal, sacrifice, and forgiveness. It's all here."
The Reds posed some questions to Deb, but first, here's a brief synopsis to get you up to speed:
On a beautiful morning in mid-May, the body of a young woman is found in one of Notting Hill’s private gardens. To passersby, the pretty girl in the white dress looks as if she’s sleeping. But Reagan Keating has been murdered, and the lead detective turns to Gemma James for help. Gemma has a personal connection to the case: Reagan was the nanny of a child who attends the same dance studio as Toby, Gemma and Kincaid’s son.
Gemma soon discovers that Reagan's death is not the first tragedy in the exclusive London park, and when still another of the garden's residents meets with violence, it becomes clear that there are more sinister forces at play.
As Gemma begins to see a solution to her case, she realizes she holds a child’s fate in her hands. Can she do the right thing? And can Kincaid rely on his friends, both inside and outside the Yard, to stand beside him as he faces the deadliest challenge of his career?
On to the questions!
HALLIE EPHRON: Debs, this one grabbed me by the throat, really. Your characters are real and sympathetic, so much so that when they're in danger I really feel for them. This book is really complex. It's got (at least!) three separate plots swirling around one another, all of them exploring trust. Do you write them separately or alternate, the way it lays out in the novel? And do they all come to you at once?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, this book gave me a headache, I have to say. (A long headache!) I started out with a very rough idea, then did my usual outline/story-boarding. I eventually ended up outlining three separate timelines because I had to make sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together in the right order. The actual writing I did pretty much in the sequence it appears in the book. And of course things changed from the outline a good bit along the way. For instance, I had no idea when I started Denis Childs' backstory exactly what had happened to him in the past. But I was very aware that all the stories dealt with trust in one way or another.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We know you do a lot of on-site research in England (lucky you!) to get the details of Duncan and Gemma's world right. Where did you go and what did you explore to get the real feel of Notting Hill?
DEBS: Julia, I've stayed in flats in Notting Hill for extended periods over the years, and no matter where I'm staying, I always spend time there. And I ALWAYS go to Portobello Market on Saturdays. I have a huge sentimental attachment to the market. I suppose it sort of embodies London for me. I usually try to visit all of Duncan's and Gemma's usual spots, too, and in this case I peeked into as many private gardens as I could!
JENN MCKINLAY: This series has had a special place in my heart, like its setting Notting Hill, since the very first book. Because I adore Gemma and Duncan, I have to ask what have been some of the challenges of writing about two lead characters, both detectives, who are married with children? Also, have you ever considered killing either of them off (please say no or lie to me)?
DEBS: I was told that if I married off my characters, it would kill the series. Boy, did that make me nervous. But, I thought it would be really tiresome to put Gemma and Duncan in a perpetual will they/won't they situation, and I've always tried to be more true to real life than that. And I thought that a married couple with their jobs and a family would present endlessly interesting and dramatic possibilities. I think that's been true so far, and it has certainly been fun for me to write about.
And, no, don't worry dear Jenn! I have no intention of doing away with any of my major characters. I couldn't bear it.
HALLIE EPHRON: One of my favorite characters is Jess, a boy who's an aspiring dancer. He felt so authentic, I have to ask is he based on anyone?
DEBS: I have a good friend whose middle son was the inspiration for both Toby and Jess, at least in part. He was a very active and very athletic kid without much impulse control. When he was about Jess's age (Jess is almost eleven in the book) he visited a ballet class and he was instantly hooked. He went on to become a very talented and accomplished dancer, although he eventually had to give it up due to knee problems. It's a punishing discipline, and it takes great dedication to achieve success. I think I'm always fascinated by people who are driven to do something difficult.
LUCY BURDETTE: Debs, I have not finished and I refuse to rush through! But really admiring your seamless transitions between Point of View characters. But that's a more technical discussion--maybe Hallie can lead us through us one day? I'll ask this instead...the title GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS is so fabulous and elegant. And then as I read, I notice that everyone is gardening! So I wonder, did the title come first and then you worked the gardens in, or, were you writing about all these gardens and their meaning for each character and the story, and the title followed?
DEBS: Lucy, that is so funny. That's the first time it's ever even occurred to me that everyone is gardening! It must have been subliminal... And I'm not even sure I could tell you now where the title came from. I don't want to make the book sound gloomy, but for me the all the intertwined stories were permeated with a sense of loss, and "lamentations" seemed to echo that.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I must know--How do you juggle all the characters' lives? Do you have a timeline, or a history, or an incredible list of lists? There are so many wonderful puzzle pieces that you put together so beautifully… What is your thought process and procedure for doing that?
DEBS: Oh, heavens. I do have timelines and lists of characters and scads of notes. The viewpoint thing is especially tricky, to keep from repeating information when you are seeing roughly the same situation from different characters' perspectives. And trying to make the different timelines end up at the same place! But I want it to be seamless for readers, so that they are just carried along and don't think about those things--at least until the end.
HANK: And before I knew you, I really expected you were British! And even when we first met, I was so surprised that you did not have a British accent. How does your brain work? How do you switch on "American "when you come back home?
DEBS: It's a very weird thing, and something I don't really have answer for. I've not only lived in England and Scotland and spent a lot of time there over the years, but I've read British books as long as I can remember (and watched British TV as long as we've been getting it in the US.) So my brain just clicks over to British voice, and I'm not really conscious of it. Split personality! Or maybe Jekyll and Hyde!
If it's a gift, I'm very grateful for it, because it's given me an enormous amount of joy over the years.
INGRID THOFT: Gemma and Duncan were navigating some difficult terrain in their relationship this time around, because of professional and family demands. Did you enjoy writing that tension or do you prefer when it’s smooth sailing on the home front?
DEBS: I did enjoy writing it. I think the fact that everyone—not just Duncan and Gemma, but Duncan and Doug, Gemma and Melody, and Melody and Doug—were all at cross purposes through most of the book really increased the story tension. That said, for the next book, I want to put everyone together, working on the same case!
INGRID: I love the supporting characters in the series, and this time around, Doug and Melody played important roles. Have you ever considered doing a spin-off with your secondary characters?
DEBS: I ADORE writing about Doug and Melody. And it has been suggested to me that I write a spin-off series with them, but I really like the dynamic of all the characters together. And as slow as I am, I don't thinking writing more than one series is on my horizon. Especially as this book was original 650 pages in manuscript...
What do you say readers? Any questions for Debs on the new release?
(And if you want to ask her in person, click here for her tour schedule!)
Deborah Crombie is a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, three cats, and two German shepards.