Deborah Crombie: Now May You Weep
9th in the James/Kincaid series.

Gemma James agrees to accompany her friend Hazel on
a weekend break in Scotland. The supposed purpose
of the trip is for them both to have a break, and for
Hazel to pursue her interest in cooking, as the weekend
is to be spent at an upmarket BandB where, in addition to
being served gourmet cuisine, guests are instructed in its
preparation.

Gemma soon finds out that this supposed
purpose is a cover; Hazel is there to meet her old lover
Duncan Brodie, owner of the local whisky distillery, and
weigh up whether to leave her husband Tim for him. Gemma
also learns that Hazel has deep ties to the area, near Aviemore,
in the Spey Valley; in fact she grew up at another, now ruined, distillery,
Carnmore, up in the nearby Cairngorm Mountains. Her cousin
Heather manages Duncan’s distillery Benvulin. In addition, the
wife of the owner of the BandB, Louise Innes, is a friend from Hazel’s
youth. Additional characters are John Innes’ younger brother
Martin, Duncan’s cast-off mistress Alison and her daughter
Chrissy, and Alison’s admirer Callum. Interwoven with this present
day action are the events which occurred at Carnmore
and Benvulin at the end of the 19th C and the origins of the
ancient family feud between the Brodies and the Urquharts
(the owners of Carnmore). When a murder occurs there are
plenty of suspects and Gemma, who cannot of course act in
her normal role, is glad of the support of Kincaid – who has his
own family problems.

I haven’t read a Crombie for some time – and this is not her most
recent. As I recall it her history goes something like this – she
wrote four reasonably interesting, but nothing special, books and then
took a ‘giant leap forward’, as Publishers Weekly described it, with
her fifth Dreaming of the Bones. I remember this book blowing me
away partly because it was so unexpected. But unfortunately the
succeeding books were a big disappointment and I gave up on
her. In at least two of these, and now this book, Crombie tries
to repeat the pattern of Dreaming of the Bones – that is interweaving
two narratives – one of past and and one of present events. I suppose one
cannot blame her for trying to repeat that success but the fact is
that it is a very, very difficult trick to pull off. To work there has
to be some strong thematic connection between the two stories.
Here there seems to be none and she connects the two through
some very unconvincing woo-woo.

Having said which the ‘present’ part of Now May Weep is pleasant
enough. There are a good cast of characters and the various tangled
relationships, if rather conventional , pass the time. This part of the
book is really let down by its solution which seems pretty improbable and
very badly argued.

This is very much a series book and one really needs to have read the
preceding books to be able to participate in the somewhat soap operaish
developments in James and Kincaid’s relationship, family and sons’
problems.

You can almost feel the research Crombie has done for this book –
the chapter heading quotations, the processes of whisky distilling,
the scenery around Aviemore, the dishes which are prepared in
the BandB and so on. But none of it really convinces. Its hard to
be too critical (though I am :)) – the fact of the matter, as it appears
to me, is that Crombie had one great book in her and she will not
be able to repeat it no matter how hard she tries. I would be
delighted if someone who has read the more recent books (In a
Dark House and Water Like a Stone) could argue differently.

As a final obscure literary note, mention is made of the Rothiemurchus
Estate, which is in the vicinity of the action, and Hazel informs Gemma
that it is still owned by the ‘Rothiemurchus Grants…A famous Highland
family’ – the main reason for that fame lies with the fact that Elizabeth
Grant was the eponymous Highland Lady of The Memoirs of a
Highland Lady (published in 1898 but in fact Elizabeth Grant’s
reminiscences of the early years of the 19thC). I am surprised
Crombie did not pursue this actually – it might have been a
more profitable and interesting avenue.

(August 2007)

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