An abandoned Southwark warehouse burns next door to a women's shelter for victims of spousal abuse. Within it lies the charred corpse of a female body burned beyond all recognition. At the same time, workers at Guy's Hospital anxiously discuss the disappearance of a hospital administrator -- a beautiful, emotionally fragile young woman who's vanished without a trace.
And in an old, dark, rambling London house, nine-year-old
Harriet's awful fears won't be silenced -- as she worries about her
feuding parents, her schoolwork . . . and the strange woman who
is her only companion in this scary, unfamiliar place.
Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid -- lovers and former partners -- have their own pressing concerns. But they must put aside private matters to investigate these disturbing cases. Yet neither Gemma nor Duncan realize how closely the cases are connected -- or how important their resolutions will be for an abducted young child who is frightened, alone . . . and in serious peril.
A serial arsonist nutter is on the loose in London in Crombie's assured 10th book starring Scotland Yard Det. Supt. Duncan Kincaid and his lover/partner Det. Insp. Gemma James. When a nude, charred female corpse turns up in a burned warehouse, the police discover that the unidentified victim, one of four possible women, was murdered beforehand. Duncan and Gemma also look into the abduction of 10-year-old Harriet Novak, a pawn in her parents' ongoing acrimonious divorce. As the investigation by both fire officials and police evolves, it becomes clear that the abduction is connected to the murder. Young, eager firefighter Rose Kearny, who found the body in the burning building, works the case on her own and comes up with a theory that may explain the arsonist's unusual motive. Fanny Liu, confined to a wheelchair, fears the worst when her roommate goes missing, and a nearby home for battered women apparently connects several aspects of the case. It's a web of gossamer-thin clues that police, under the patient Superintendent Kincaid, work to untangle as they race against time to find the imperiled Harriet. Myriad subplots that have accrued from past entries slow the action in places, but Duncan and Gemma are such interesting and attractive characters that few readers will mind.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2005
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Excerpt from In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie
London ... Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots,
making a soft black drizzle,with flakes of soot in it as big as
full-grown snowflakes -- gone into mourning, one might
imagine, for the death of the sun.
It took no more than a match, nestled beneath the crumpled paper and foil crisp packets. The flame smoldered, then flared and crackled, and within seconds tongues reached out for the bottom layer of furniture stacked so conveniently on the ground floor of the old warehouse. Nothing burned like polyurethane foam, and the cheap chairs, sofas, and mattresses removed from the flats on the upper floors of the building were old enough not to have been treated with fire retardants.
A gift. It was a gift. He could hardly have asked for more if he had assembled the ingredients for a perfect fire himself. The furniture would generate enough heat for flashover, then the old wooden floorboards and ceiling joists would blaze with a beautiful fury. The fire would take on a life of its own, separate from its creator.
And the fire had power, that he had learned early on, power to ex-hilarate, power to transform, power to induce wonder and terror. He had first read about the great Tooley Street fire of 1861 in school, which seemed to him now an odd place to have discovered a life's calling.
The conflagration had burned for two days and consumed over three hundred yards of wharf and warehouse, damage unequaled since the Great Fire of 1666, damage not to be seen again until the Blitz.
There had been other fires, of course: the Mustard Mills in 1814, Topping's Wharf in 1843, Bankside in 1855; it seemed to him that fire was as necessary to Southwark as birth and death, that it provided an essential means of growth and regeneration.
Heat began to sear his face; the skin across his cheekbones and forehead felt stretched, his nostrils began to sting from the smoke and escaping gas. The blaze was well under way now, burrowing deep into the pile of furniture, then licking out in unexpected places. It was time for him to go, but still he lingered, unable to tear himself from the energy that gave him more than a sexual charge -- it was a glimpse into the heart of life itself. If he gave himself up to it, let it consume him, would he at last know the truth?
But still, he resisted complete surrender. Shaking himself, he blinked against the stinging in his eyes and took a last look round, making sure he had left no trace. Satisfied, he slipped out the way he had come. He would watch from a distance as the fire mounted to its inevitable climax and then ... then there would be other fires. There were always other fires.
Rose Kearny liked night duty best, when the station was quiet except for the muted murmur of voices in the staff room as everyone went about their assigned tasks. There was something comforting about the camaraderie inside held against the dark outside, and in the easing of the adrenaline rush after a call-out. And she considered herself lucky to have ended up at Southwark, the station where she had trained, and the most historic in the London Fire Brigade.
She and her partner, Bryan Simms, were checking their breathing apparatus after the first bell of the night -- a little old lady in a council flat, having decided to make herself a bedtime snack, had dozed off with the chip pan on the burner. Fortunately, a neighbor had seen the first sign of smoke, the blaze had been easily contained, and the woman had escaped serious injury.
But every fire call, no matter how minor, required a careful examination of any equipment they had used. Tonight she and Bryan had been assigned BA crew and their lives depended on the efficiency of their breathing apparatus -- and on each other. Simms, at twenty-three a year older than Rose, was as steady and reliable as his square, blunt face implied, and not inclined to panic.