Saturday, February 11, 2012

Deborah Crombie for Authors @ The Teague

When Deborah Crombie appeared for Authors @ The Teague on her No Mark Upon Her book tour, she began by apologizing for her casual dress. Her author clothes, appropriate for Texas in winter, were boots, tights and a wool sweater, hardly suitable for our 80 degrees.

How did this Texan become the author of a British police procedural series? She surveyed the audience to learn only one third of the group were familiar with her books. No Mark Upon Her is her fourteenth book. She said she had just realized she sold her first book twenty years ago this week, the second week in February, 1992.

Deborah was an Anglophile since she was a little kid. She grew up in suburban Dallas. But, Public Television hit that market when she was eight years old. She holds Public TV at least partially responsible for her love of all things British. She watched the British comedies, science fiction, the British soaps. Then she read the books those shows came from. She read all nine novels in John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga when she was in junior high. She read anything and everything British. She was hooked. She loved C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Crombie told us that in her heart she belonged in Oxford as one of the Inklings. It was a loose group of writers, including Lewis and Tolkien, who met at often at a pub called The Eagle and Child, fondly referred to as The Bird and Baby. They talked about books!

When Deborah graduated from college, her parents took her to Europe. The first week was in England. Now, she can’t believe they rented a mini, and her father let her drive. More than thirty years later, she still doesn’t like to drive in Britain. They went to Oxford and Bath. When she saw Oxford, Deborah thought she had died and gone to heaven. She was smitten. They got off the plane at Gatwick Airport, and took a bus into London. She spent the entire trip with her face pressed against the glass, staring at the Surrey countryside, in tears. She had a feeling of homecoming. It was the place of heart. After that, everything revolved around getting back to Britain.

Eventually, Deborah met and married a Scotsman. She had met him in Dallas, of all places. They lived in Edinburgh and Chester before moving back to the states. Eventually, she returned to Yorkshire. She was a big fan of James Herriot, whose real name was Alf Wight. He lived and practiced in Yorkshire, and signed books in his surgery on Thursday afternoon.

While she and her ex-husband were driving around, they found a place that had been converted to a timeshare. She had the germ of an idea. Yorkshire would be a fun place for a British mystery. She knew she needed a detective. Duncan Kincaid, the Scotland Yard Superintendent, just came to life in her head. Crombie said she has been accused of being anti-feminist for making her protagonist a male. But, in 1989, there weren’t any female officers in the British police of that rank. And, she wanted someone with a high enough rank so he could go various places.

Gemma James was introduced because Crombie wanted Kincaid to have an interesting female partner. There have been fourteen books in the series with a story arc. Crombie didn’t know they would become romantically involved until halfway through the third book. No Mark Upon Her is the first book after they’ve gotten married. They no longer work together professionally. They have a blended family.

Crombie suggested if you like the latest book, go back and read the series from the beginning. She’s happy if people dive in, and then go back. The books have multiple viewpoints and storylines. She sees them as independent books.

Deborah has fun doing the research for books. She’s covered a variety of subjects in the books – whiskey tasting, auction houses, German war refugees, tea, art deco jewelry. She was a fan of Dick Francis’ books. She likes to learn things.

In No Mark Upon Her, Duncan and Gemma have been on a family visit to Glastonbury. They have a foster daughter who is three, and they each have a son from a previous marriage. They are trying to make the domestic stuff work. Their foster child, Charlotte, who they met in the previous book, Necessary as Blood, had some traumatic experiences, and she has some separation anxiety. Gemma is about to go back to work after a two month leave of absence. Now, it’s Duncan’s turn to stay home with Charlotte.

However, Duncan gets a call from his boss who wants him to look into a suspicious death in Henley-on-Thames. That’s the most famous rowing town in the world. Leander is the most famous rowing club. They called the police because a rower in training didn’t come back. She was found, but it was a suspicious death. Rebecca Meredith was trying to make a comeback. But, she was a senior police officer with the Met. Duncan goes to investigate, and it turns out it was a suspicious death.

This book has a lot about rowing. It also covers canine search-and-rescue. Crombie finds a place, a character story, something she wants to write about. She is fascinated with rowing. It requires enormous obsession. She said she loves contradictions.

There’s a difference between rowing and sculling. Sculling is done with two oars. Rowing is with one oar. Single scullers are fascinating. It’s a brutal sport. The only sport that compares physically is cross-country skiing. Becca, the victim, was training for the Olympics when she was younger, and screwed up. Now, it’s 2012. At thirty-five, she was trying to make a comeback.

At one time, you had to be a great rower to belong to Leander. Now, there are social memberships as well. Leander is where the British Olympians train. The crew doesn’t live there, but they train, eat and row there. Crombie got to stay there and meet them.

Deborah became friends with one of the daily managers (the women who actually run the club). Now, 6'4" is about average for a rower, and Deborah is about 5'4". She met one rower, who introduced himself as Steve. She told him what she was writing, and he asked about her character. They spent about two hours talking, and he told her how she could drown a rower. When Crombie said I wish I knew what it felt like to row, he said he'd take her out. Afterward, the daily manager said, "Do you know who that was?" Deb said no, and was told, that's Stevie Williams. When Crombie still looked blank, she said, Sir Stephen Williams, O.B.E. He's a two time Gold medal winner in the coxless four.

He did take her out. He took her when it was getting dark because he wanted to take her at the time when Becca goes out in the book. But, first Deborah was afraid of even getting into the boat because it’s so long and narrow, and she was afraid she’d fall out trying to get in. But, she was able to see what it feels like and what it smells like on the river. She saw what the river was like, and what it felt like to row.

Another aspect of the book is canine search-and rescue. Deborah went on training exercises, which means she spent time hiding in fens, being found by slobbering dogs. A search-and-rescue team helped her plot out the search in her book.

Deborah held a pink hippo while she talked about No Mark Upon Her. The pink hippo is the mascot of Leander Club. The club was founded in the 1870s, and, naturally all the members were upper class chappies. She was told the hippo is the mascot because it’s the only animal equally at home on land and in the water. Crombie’s cap was Leander pink, actually cerise. She doesn’t know why it’s that color, but someone on the book tour suggested it might be so they can be more visible since rowers are going backwards. And, Leander pink is on the tips of the oars. That’s included in this book. Deb’s hippo is Leo the Hippo, but the official mascot doesn’t have a name.

Asked what her favorite book was, she said she does like this one. It’s getting fantastic reviews. How long does it take her to write a book? Fifteen months. No Mark Upon Her was finished in November 2010. It was published in England in August. But, her American publishers wanted a long lead time for promotion. And, it wasn’t planned that way, but it is out the same year as the London Olympics. Crombie does have gaps between her books. She also likes the eighth book, And Justice There is None. It’s set in Notting Hill, where Deb stays when she goes to England. Crombie’s first book came out in 1993. She’s on her fourteenth, so she doesn’t have a book a year. She doesn’t write fast, and the books are often long and complicated.

A fan compared Crombie’s books to Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley books, saying they both go into the personal lives of their characters. She had read all of Crombie’s books. She likes the character stories combined with action. She asked Deborah if she had been on programs with Elizabeth George.

Deborah said, the crime writing community is really close-knit. In fact, two of her best friends, Cara Black and Rhys Bowen, are appearing at Velma Teague on March 12. But, Elizabeth George doesn’t socialize as far as Deborah knows.

Crombie told us she appeared at the Henley Literary Festival, and they loved the book. She showed us the maps in the American edition, the endpapers, and said they weren’t in the British edition of the book, and the people in Henley wanted the map.

When she appeared at the festival, Felix Francis, Dick Francis’ son, was on the program after her. Dick Francis was Deb’s father’s favorite author, and she asked her host if she could stay around to meet Felix. She actually got to introduce him, and sort of interview him. Dick Francis was one of her influences.

Crombie told the audience they really could pick up any book in the series, and then go back to the beginning if they chose. She said fortunately all the books are still in print, and they’re available in large print as well as on recorded books.

Asked about her next book, Deborah said it wasn’t finished yet. But, it’s set in South London in Crystal Palace. That’s off the beaten track. It’s also set in Soho, in a type of theater district. Crombie brings back a character from an earlier book, Andy Monaghan. He was invented for Where Memories Lie, just as a neighbor to interview and supply a piece of information. But, he jumped off the page. Crombie likes to invent the backstory for a character, and learn their issues. Andy, a rock guitarist, is the central character. She learned a lot more about the guitar, Soho, and Crystal Palace.

Someone asked what she meant when she said the British edition didn’t have the endpapers. Crombie said there have been maps in at least the last seven books, well over half in the series. The U.S. publishers, William Morrow, commission the map, so it’s not in the British edition, which has a different publisher. It’s only in the U.S. edition. Deborah said she doesn’t see her books as cozies. They’re police procedurals. But, the British think the more hardboiled mysteries are, the better they sell. And, it’s more prestigious to write hardboiled mysteries. The maps make the books look too cozy for them. Each chapter of her book also has a quotation, and she works hard to find them, and make them fit. But, the British edition doesn’t include the quotes either.

Then, she was asked if she set a book in Cambridge. Her New York Times Notable Book, Dreaming of the Bones, was set there. She has been to both Cambridge and Oxford libraries, but she has spent more time at Oxford. Oxford is the intellectual center of the world to her. Bodleian Library is beyond compare. C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers all went there, and she grew up reading them. She attended a conference there, and sat next to P.D. James at a dinner at Somerville College, Dorothy L. Sayers’ college. She thought she’d died and gone to heaven.

It’s always a treat to welcome this Texan Anglophile back to Velma Teague. The audience who came for her No Mark Upon Her book tour certainly welcomed her.

Deborah Crombie's website is

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie. William Morrow. 2012. ISBN 9780061990618 (hardcover), 369p.

And, don't forget, I'm giving away copies of No Mark Upon Her, one autographed ARC and a hardcover. You must email me at Subject line must read, "Win No Mark Upon Her." Include your name and mailing address. Good luck!


Nancy said...

Lisa, thanks for this interview as it was for me almost like being at the Teague to here Deborah Crombie speak.

Nancy said...

Oops, I meant "hear", not "here".

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Nancy. You should have seen one of the typos I made the other day. Embarrassing when I looked at it afterward!

Phyllis said...

I loved your report on Crombie's visit to the Teague. I wish I lived close enough to attend!

Crombie is one of my favorite mystery writers, and I read a lot of them.

Beth Hoffman said...

Wow, Lesa! What a great post. I love reading about all your Authors at The Teague events! This book is going on my list.

Happy weekend to you and the kitties!

Jane R said...

I have read all the Kincaid/James mysteries and love them! I even got my husband started on the series as well. He's pretty hard to please when it comes to mysteries, but he's had nothing but good things to say about them. This is a great post! Thanks!!

Bev Stephans said...

Marvelous post Lesa. It was nice getting a back story on Deborah Crombie. I really enjoyed her travels around Britain. My copy of the book should be here Monday.

Kaye Barley said...

What a great post from two of my very favorite women - Thank You!!!!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Jane & Bev! I hope you both enjoy the latest book in the series. It's terrific.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Kaye, and thank you for such a nice comment!

Karen C said...

I just love reading your synopsis of the Authors @ The Teague. It's just like being there - thanks, Lesa.