‘Broken Glass’: past & present collide in London mystery

Deborah Crombie has earned her ever-growing readership the old-fashioned way — by creating a terrific crime novel series and then maintaining a high standard through 15 books.

The Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones series follows two Scotland Yard detectives — and their co-workers and friends — both on the job and during their after-hours lives.

Slowly and steadily, Crombie has risen into the top ranks of mystery writers with her police procedurals set in London. The 15th Kincaid/Jones novel “The Sound of Broken Glass” (William Morrow) was published a few weeks ago and will debut in the number nine slot on The New York Times bestseller list this Sunday.

The first crime in the new novel is the baffling and sordid murder of a barrister in a sleazy hotel in the Crystal Palace section of London. The 50ish lawyer is married to a woman suffering from dementia; he has apparently been picking up sex partners in his local pub.

Crombie seamlessly blends this contemporary plot thread with events 15 years earlier involving a boy who would grow up to be a guitarist on the verge of a major career.

A second barrister is murdered in the same sexual manner as the first victim, but he is considerably younger and is killed in his posh apartment rather than a hotel. The past and present plot strands come together when a link between the musician and the murders is established.

Crombie has become a master of embroidering personal elements into her mystery plots without ever stopping the momentum of the building suspense.

The domestic lives of Kincaid and James have grown very complicated over the 15 stories, with the co-workers falling in love, marrying, and having to juggle childcare with their jobs.

Duncan is on family leave in “Broken Glass” but still manages to offer some help to Gemma on what proves to be an exceptionally complex case.

Crombie shows us how hard it is to keep police work and a private life separate in a subplot in which Gemma’s partner, Melody Talbot, is irresistibly drawn to the guitarist, before it becomes apparent that he might be linked to the murders.

“The Sound of Breaking Glass” takes us into the world of pop music as the guitarist is hired to perform with a new singer who might be the next big thing. (Their first work together in a studio is captured on video by the producer and goes viral on YouTube almost immediately.)

Latecomers to the series don’t need to worry about being dropped into an ongoing saga. Crombie does a masterful job of making the books work as stand-alone experiences. I started in the middle, and have been happily working my way through the earlier Kincaid/James stories.

Joe Meyers