Deborah Crombie couldn’t be more of a north Texas native. Born in Dallas, grew up in Richardson, graduated from college in Sherman. And she lives in a century-old home in McKinney. Yet from Germany to Japan, Spain to the U.K., the north Texas writer is known as the best-selling author of 17 police novels, all of them lovingly set . . . in England.
The wood-frame house with its carefully tended yard looks perfectly peaceful but doesn’t sound like it. Not with two full-sized German Shepherds competing with each other to warn everyone in earshot a stranger’s approaching. “Hush!” says Deborah Crombie to Dax and Jasmine. “Hush! Where’s your ball?” She tries to distract them.“Where’s your ball?” No luck. They insist on participating in our conversation. So the author lures the dogs to another room and shuts the door.
“It’s a lovely old home,” I remark once it’s clear I can be heard. “It is,” Crombie says happily. “It is.”
She should be proud. The house is 105 years old and has undergone extensive renovations. Now it’s filled with antiques, Persian rugs, a tiled fireplace and beamed ceilings. Crombie herself likes to write in the converted sleeping porch in the back, filled with sunlight and a view of her garden.
“Actually, I have an office upstairs,” she says with a laugh. “But I haven’t used it in about a year.”
Crombie’s crime novels feature a married pair of London detectives. Given that, and her cozy home, you might think her books are classic, quaint British whodunits, all tea shops and — even more tea shops. Actually, they’re police procedurals: full of ordinary legwork, office politics, closed-circuit TV surveillance, interrogations and forensic tests.
But still, they do have a strong domestic texture. The heart of the series is the relationship between detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. Over the course of the series so far, we’ve seen them meet as colleagues, have an affair, eventually marry. And now they wrestle with the demands of a blended family and Scotland Yard. As a result, the Kincaid-James novels are almost a hybrid – not crime novels, as Crombie says, but novels with crimes in them.
This, for instance, is a typical moment at home, the opening of Chapter 9 in Crombie’s 2014 novel, ‘To Dwell in Darkness.’
Gemma woke him with a gentle touch on his shoulder. As he sat up, startled, she said, trying not to laugh, ‘I think I could make you a bit more comfortable.’
‘I didn’t mean to fall asleep.’ Kincaid seemed disoriented and smelled faintly of beer. He gestured toward the cat.
‘It’s just she seemed so glad of my company.’
‘Write what you know’ is the standard advice given authors. For Crombie, it’s been ‘write what you love.’
That’s because back in 1976, after she’d graduated from college, Crombie visited England — “and I just fell madly, passionately, crazy in love with Britain.”
Eventually, she met and married a Scotsman, Peter Crombie, and emigrated to the U.K. When they returned to Texas in the late ‘80s, Crombie set out to become a novelist, inspired by British mystery writers like P.D. James. Among other things – like attending Rice University’s old Publishing Program, modeled on the famous Radcliffe Publishing Course – she took a 17-week continuing-ed course from the late sci-fi author Warren Norwood.
“He was a great teacher,” Crombie says, “but he was tough. The first chapters I turned in I was so proud of, and they came back with great big red UGHS scrawled all over them. But by the time I finished the course, the last thing I turned in, he wrote on it, ‘This is publishable. Go for it.’”