26. Kissed a Sad Goodbye - sixth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
I was hoping to build my whole Deborah Crombie library on the Kindle, but this one wasn't available so I bought a used copy. And of course, as these things always go, it is now available on the Kindle. In fact, I think all of her books are now there.
As I've noted before, she is a great writer. I'm going to go out on the proverbial limb here and say that she rivals P.D. James in the complexity and detail of her novels.
Kissed a Sad Goodbye is a multi-leveled story which takes us to different places and different times. Naturally they all connect, and that connection is the murder of a young woman, Annabelle Hammond who runs an historic tea company on the Isle of Dogs in London. The book features a map of this area
showing the reader where everyone lives and works. Each chapter begins with a passage from one of two books- Dockland: An Illustrated Historical Survey of Life and Work in East London (1986), or Memories of Childhood on the Isle of Dogs, 1870-1970 (1993). These make a fascinating background to what we are reading about. The area was hit rather badly during the Second World War, and hence many children were evacuated from the city. We meet some of these children in italicized sections scattered throughout the book. When they appear in the present day we know something about their earlier lives. I had a feeling that something bad was going to happen in the past, and indeed it did. I mention this in way of a caveat - there is a graphic, most unpleasant incident which is pivotal to the story. It causes an event which echoes fifty years on.
This book begins two months after Dreaming of the Bones ended, and the reader sees that life is proceeding onward in the lives of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. As always, I won't go into much detail because their personal situations change with each story. But I will say that they are very interesting and real characters. By this, the sixth book we know them pretty well, or think we do, but as in real life, there are shifts and surprises.
When Duncan and Gemma begin their investigation at the dead woman's home, there's a nice section about books.
What people chose to read never failed to fascinate him, and he crossed the room to take a closer look.Because the victim is connected with the tea trade, there is some fascinating information for the reader.
There were a number of hardcover best-sellers, and a handful of titles that he recognized as being novels about successful women overcoming obstacles. None showed a particularly adventurous or introspective turn of mind, and all were tucked neatly between brass or alabaster bookends, with the spines arranged according to height rather than by content or author. It seemed as though Annabelle Hammond had been as tidy in her reading habits as she was in her housekeeping, and had reserved her passions for things other than books.
"We don't make the tea, Superintendent. We blend and package it, and our production and shipping staff work five-day weeks." ... One side of the table's length held ranks of worn, tin tea caddies and plain foil bags; the other a neat row of rectangular, white porcelain bowls.Annabelle's various and complicated relationships make for a great deal of unraveling the detectives must do to get to the center of this crime. This is one of the best mysteries I've read, and yet another installment in this great, great series.
"The tasting table. We don't sell just any tea. First it must be blended, and Hammond's has been famous for its blends for a hundred and twenty-five years. We buy the tea at auction - mainly from India and Sri Lanka, but since the late seventies China has opened up to us again, and some tea is exported from Africa and even South America."
"Sri Lanka - that used to be Ceylon? Some of these say Ceylon."
"Teas from Sri Lanka are known as Ceylon teas in the trade. But in Sri Lanka alone there are over two thousand different tea gardens - those are the estates on which tea is grown - and each estate has a number of different pluckings, or harvests, a year, depending on its altitude. And the tea from each of those pluckings can vary in taste and quality."