A Bitter Feast: A Novel (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels)
“Crombie lays before the reader a maze with stops and starts at every turn. Her writing style invests in every character as she designs scenes full of detail from that character's point of view. She details information in brief scenes that lead the reader out of the dead-end maze only to make another turn . . .”
To say that Deborah Crombie's most recent book, A Bitter Feast, is a page-turner would be an understatement.
Crombie places her protagonists Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James in the upper-class Cotswolds, away from the hubbub of London, away from the murder, mayhem, and chaos of the big city. Or are they?
Gemma's detective sergeant, Melody Talbot, invites them, their children, and coworker Doug Kincaid to relax at the country estate of her parents, Ivan and Adele Talbot. Arriving separately is a godsend for Duncan and Gemma when Duncan is involved in an automobile accident, fatal to the driver and passenger of the car that struck him.
The driver of the car, Nell Greene, finishes dinner at The Lamb, a local pub run by Chef Viv Holland and her business partner Bea Abbott. While there, she notices a handsome man sitting by himself, who rises and walks into the kitchen without an invitation and becomes involved in an argument with Viv. An odd activity, Nell thinks, but gives it no further consideration. On her way home, she encounters the man staggering along the roadway and stops to help him. She then strikes Duncan's car.
Although intended to be a relaxing weekend, it quickly becomes apparent that four Scotland Yard detectives and a cadre of local detectives will spend the weekend trying to sort out why the accident happened. Especially intriguing is the fact that the passenger in the car, well-known chef Fergus O'Reilly, was dead before the accident occurred.
Crombie lays before the reader a maze with stops and starts at every turn. Her writing style invests in every character as she designs scenes full of detail from that character's point of view. She details information in brief scenes that lead the reader out of the dead-end maze only to make another turn and wait for the next crumb of information.
The investigation into the death of Fergus O'Reilly becomes intriguing when it is learned that he died of digitalis poisoning. Looking into his background, Duncan and local detective Booth learn that O'Reilly did not have heart problems, but they also learn that digitalis is made from the foxglove plant, a plant that grows wild in the Cotswolds.
Alive in the pub; dead outside the pub. The focus of the investigation turns to those in the pub, and the suspect list starts to grow. The argument between Viv and O'Reilly leads the detectives down a slippery slope of bad history between the two famous chefs. Ibby, one of Viv's chefs also has a bad history with O'Reilly; Bea Abbot, Viv's partner, is somewhat removed from the relationships . . . or is she? Grace, Viv's 11-year-old daughter is not a suspect, but is there something between Grace and O'Reilly that could prove deadly? Mark Cain, Viv's love interest, is not pleased to see O'Reilly reenter Viv's life. Roz Dunning, account manager for Gemma and Duncan's host, Adele, is discovered skimming from her employer's account and having had a one-night-stand with O'Reilly. A long list of suspects and motives, indeed.
In the meanwhile, as the detectives are following leads, another murder occurs. Jack, the bartender at The Lamb, is struck and killed on his way home one evening. To be sure he dies after hitting him, the murderer proceeds to strike him across the head, delivering the final, fatal blow.
Throughout the story, while all of the possible suspects line up for consideration, Crombie reveals backstory that may or may not have anything to do with the murders but goes a long way toward developing each character.
Kincaid and James ferret out clues, small and large, and the puzzle begins to take shape. The final scenes where the perpetrator is uncovered moves with lightning speed when Grace, Viv's daughter, witnesses an attempt at another murder, and is chased by the murderer.
All loose ends are neatly tied up, problems resolved, and the detectives leave their relaxing weekend behind and return to London to their truly relaxing jobs.
To say that A Bitter Feast is a page-turner would be an understatement. Plan a full weekend of tea and scones because this one is not to be put down.