On the last page of “The Sound of Broken Glass,” Duncan Kincaid comes off paternity leave to find his office completely boxed up and a letter of transfer on his meticulously cleaned-out desk. He has been demoted from head of a Scotland Yard elite homicide team to head of an area major-incidents team at the Met’s Holborn Station. And he has been given absolutely no explanation as to why.
Now, about a month later, as “To Dwell in Darkness” begins, Duncan has formulated some serious suspicions as to that “why.” Immediately after signing the mysterious transfer letter, Duncan’s Chief Superintendent, Denis Child, took emergency leave, citing family illness, gave no date of expected return, and essentially disappeared off the face of the earth. Since Child is also Duncan’s friend and his de facto landlord, for him to leave without telling Duncan is clearly out of character.
At the same time Child takes leave and Duncan is forcibly transferred, Duncan’s DS, Doug Cullen, is also transferred away from homicide. He is now assigned to the bowels of the Yard’s data entry facility. It is almost as if the Yard is trying not only to disband the team but to bury it.
Added to that is the sudden promotion of Duncan’s wife, Gemma James, to DI in the Met. This action occurred just after Duncan went on paternity leave. And it happened immediately after Duncan closed the controversial murder case in “No Mark Upon Her” in which a Yard Deputy Commissioner was chief suspect. Refusing to succumb to pressure from above his pay grade to let his suspicions die, Duncan had gathered the requisite evidence anyway.
When the commissioner was found dead on the day he was scheduled to turn himself in, it was intimated in a roundabout way to Duncan that a quietly closed case and an extended paternity leave might be beneficial to both his career and Gemma’s. Even then, Duncan wondered if he was being offered a bribe to be quiet and if he would have an office to come back to at the end of the paternity leave.
While Duncan has no idea what his new Chief Superintendent has been told about that case or anything else, he knows the man has clipped his wings substantially. Like Doug, he has been pulled from independent fieldwork, saddled with loads of paperwork and removed from all homicide investigations.
That is just the start of his problems with his new position. His new DI, Jasmine Sidana, had been in line for promotion to the position Duncan was forced into, and she resents his presence intensely. Her countenance and her tone of voice betray her feelings at every turn and she balks at even the simplest order to come from Duncan’s mouth. She knows that Duncan has been demoted, feels that he does not deserve the position, and sees it as a moral and professional imperative to get him permanently discredited.
Then there’s his new DC, George Sweeney, a swaggering young man who engages in activities and dresses in a manner well above his pay grade. And he has an insolent, derisive manner about him as if something or someone entitles him to freely disrespect his new superintendent. The only member of Duncan’s immediate team who seems to do his job with both competence and professionalism is Simon Gikas, the team’s case manager and high-tech research assistant.
Now, as Duncan stands idle, ruminating on both the causes and effects of his exile, a call comes through about a disturbance and fire, possibly as the result of a bombing, at St. Pancras International, where a music festival is being held in the trains’ concourse. Duncan is ordered personally by his new Chief Superintendent to proceed to St. Pancras and liaise with the counter-terrorism unit. At this point, neither her nor the reader know if he is being assigned because of his expertise and prior successful track record or whether it is a political maneuver designed to fully destroy him professionally.
When the team arrives at the scene, they learn that the fire was apparently caused by the detonation of a white phosphorus grenade, which immolated its handler and severely burned several spectators. Duncan also learns that the first responder on scene had been Melody Talbot, Gemma’s DS. She had been off-duty, at the train station to watch her boyfriend in concert, and just out of range of the detonation went it occurred.
Melody had seen the protestors with their placards. Within moments of spotting them, she heard the detonation of the grenade and saw its blinding light. Shifting from girlfriend-mode to cop-mode, Melody calls it in and moves toward ground zero, against a panicked and fleeing crowd. As she fights her way forward, into the blinding smoke, she is aided by a man who is also fighting to get to the perpetrator who had released the grenade.
When they get to the victim, Melody believes the horror of what they see accounts for the look of devastation on the man’s face. However, the next words out of his mouth imply that the devastation comes from knowing who the victim is – and who it is not! In the next moment, the man disappears into the smoke and the melee, leaving Melody with the overall impression that he is a plainclothes cop like herself.
Knowing his job is on the line and knowing that his new team is nowhere near trustworthy, personally or professionally, Duncan keeps a great deal of Melody’s information to himself. And knowing the nature of Doug’s new job in the records center, Duncan surreptitiously hijacks him to research the mystery man. Then Melody joins the “undercover” team by volunteering to research the newspaper archives for information on the protest group. When the two separate research efforts converge to reveal two sides of the same coin – a coin probably minted by the same someone who had Duncan, Doug and Child disenfranchised – the case takes on an entirely new dimension.
Slowly and deliberately, Deborah Crombie builds the plotline from an environmental protest gone wrong into a case of murder with a side of undercover political and financial intrigue. False leads, red herrings, lies, deceptions, misconceptions and fear dominate the scenes. But Crombie also loads those scenes with innuendos that continually affirm for the reader what we have suspected from the beginning – the source of Duncan’s current troubles are truly the events that transpired in “No Mark Upon Her.” And now those events seem to be tied to people that Duncan had no idea even existed.
From chapter to chapter, and often within each chapter, Crombie shifts the prevailing POV from character to character. The changes are cleanly done and seem to be positioned to either ramp up the tension or calm it down to tolerable levels. Oftentimes the story is coming through Duncan’s eyes. However, we also get to experience events from the viewpoints of Gemma, Melody and Doug. And then there is the unidentified man whose thoughts show up on the first page and are interspersed throughout the work – a man Crombie leads us to believe, one innuendo or one fact at a time, is central not only to the current events but to those that precipitated Duncan’s transfer.
In “The Sound of Broken Glass,” Crombie resolved the murder successfully and believably but still managed to leave us with a teeth-gritting cliffhanger. This sequel in no way cleans up that cliffhanger. What Crombie does instead is to take the details of the cliffhanger and keep them roiling like an undercurrent in each chapter, tinting and tainting every event and every conversation within.
And by the last sentence on the last page, you will know and feel exactly as Duncan knows and feels, that the line from “Catch-22,” often jokingly paraphrased as “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you,” isn’t just a cute line and it is definitely not a joke. The Yard may not just be trying to disband Duncan’s former team and figuratively bury its pieces in obscurity. The Yard may now be trying to bury them, and anyone connected to the Deputy Commissioner murder case, six feet under.
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