Dreaming of the Bones

by Deborah Crombie

Monday, September 10, 2001

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these are excerpts from my responses to a mailing list discussion of this book and as such they include spoilers.

[On Lydia’s letters and Vic’s inklings of suicide]

I didn’t like Lydia much and I really wanted to see her mother’s side of all those letters! The letters all came from a period early on in Lydia’s life and not the time close to her death. Vic’s convictions seemed to be the biggest sign that Lydia was really murdered but I had mixed feelings about those.

It seemed reasonable that if she was setting a scene to die she’d have gone the whole hog and worn something ‘appropriate’ too, but then I didn’t feel she had particularly planned her earlier suicide attempts. She caused Nathan a lot of distress in dying but I think she caused Adam a lot of distress when he found her with her wrists slit too. I don’t think she left notes in the two earlier cases so why would she at the third attempt? Also since she made the second attempt with the car crash look like an accident I didn’t see why she might not leave an incongruous scene at her third attempt to make that look like an accident too. The fact that she didn’t seem to be in a depressed phase at the time she dies seemed to be the biggest pointer to me that something was amiss.

[On the English village setting and comparisons to Christie and Sayers]

I thought this book bore more relationship to an academic mystery rather than a village one. The setting didn’t seem especially important to the plot and I only felt a sense of place in when Vic’s office and Lydia’s rooms were mentioned.

I’ve never read Sayers and I didn’t really see much resemblence to Christie. The book didn’t strike me as especially English. Although the University of Cambridge plays its part I feel that the book could’ve equally been set around any fairly prestigious college anywhere.

[On the murder coming late in the book]

I wasn’t expecting Vic’s murder at all. I was intrigued by what happened to Lydia and looking forward to Vic finding out what happened and I was a bit shocked by the change of pace. I quite like the non murder mystery and I like books that depart from the formula so I was disappointed as much by the fact that anyone was murdered as I was by the fact that it was Vic.

I’m reading this as a standalone so I don’t know anything of Duncan and Gemma but I presume this is their series. I wasn’t surprised by them investigating, partly because this was obviously the central story of the book, but also because I think the author set the situation up well. I thought Gemma’s reactions to the situation with Vic were particularly well done and quite realistic.

If I was expecting there to be another body apart from Lydia, which I wasn’t really, I think I would have expected it to have been one of the people who knew Lydia, probably Adam or Nathan, but perhaps Darcy or Morgan too.

I think I preferred the book before Vic died. I’ve only read the beginning of Part Two but I definitely feel the emphasis has changed. I suspect that if I was reading this as a series I would have found Part One an annoying break from the norm and would breathe a sigh of relief with the beginning of Part Two where a ‘proper’ investigation is underway. However I found Vic a more interesting person than either Duncan or Gemma and I rather wanted the book to go in a different direction.

[On whodunnit ideas at the halway point]

I’ve no idea who murdered either of them and haven’t really seen anything to suggest beyond doubt that they were both murdered by the same hand. If I had to pin the tail on the donkey and guess at this point I’d say that Daphne seems a bit suspicious to me, we haven’t seen much of her in Part One and she was mentioned quite a lot in Lydia’s letters. I feel she’s got something to hide though I don’t know if it’s murder. I’m also not convinced that Nathan has been entirely truthful in his description of finding Lydia dead but I don’t have anything to show that he murdered her either.

[On the cast being haunted by Lydia’s death]

I don’t think Lydia’s death did haunt all of these characters that much. I think only Morgan was really haunted by her death and felt that in some way he was responsible for her committing suicide because of the violence in his relationship with her.

Nathan, Adam and Daphne were all upset by her death but I don’t think any of them felt responsibility for it the way that Morgan did. I suspect that they all felt that they should have been more use to Lydia as friends and that it was some failing on their part that led her to commit suicide but I think they all knew that it wasn’t their fault.

And Darcy, who seemed the least troubled by Lydia’s death, was unlikely to be haunted by it both because he was responsible for it and because, in spite of his pretentious airs, I thought he was the most straightforward character emotionally. He didn’t seem to feel any remorse for any of the killings and killed Lydia and Vic just to cover up the earlier death.

I felt a bit cheated that Verity’s disappearance wasn’t alluded to earlier in the book. Although I can see the discontinuity in Lydia’s letters that signifies ‘something major happened here’ when she moves from dedicated student to dropping out to get married in the course of a few months I don’t think there was anything to point to what that pivotal event was.

[On Vic not telling Duncan about Kit]

I think it’s difficult to judge Vic on the facts we have but on the whole I think she made a decent decision. She was in a very difficult situation. For one reason or another she’d left Duncan and was seeing Ian. Ian says near the end of the book that she didn’t know originally which of the men was the father of her baby. Ian was aware of that and he and Vic must have had a loving relationship at that time. Ian was happy at that point to bring up Kit as his son. I can’t say I blame Vic for deciding that staying with Ian and simplifying a complicated situation by not telling Duncan what was going on was the best thing to do, especially as I suspect she needed to make the decision before the point where she was certain of Kit’s paternity.

At the point where the book begins Vic and Ian’s relationship has broken down and it appears irretrievable, Vic finds another reason to contact Duncan again in his professional capacity. I think that if Vic had lived she would have told Duncan the truth before he had it pointed out to him. I think she’d realised that Ian was never going to be a good father to Kit and whilst one can’t just swap in another dad I think she wanted Duncan to have the opportunity to play a role in Kit’s life if he wanted to.

I think Duncan’s actions at the end of the book show that he wants to form a relationship with Kit. I also think that this will cement his relationship with Gemma rather than strain it as he realises more about what Toby means to Gemma and what families are all about. But then I haven’t read the rest of the series so I only know Duncan and Gemma through what I’ve seen in this book.

[On whether the ending was fair]

I don’t think Crombie played particularly fair. I’m not sure if Verity’s disappearance was mentioned more than a couple of chapters ahead of where it was explained. If it was I missed it entirely. This was the big letdown in the book for me. I wasn’t bothered that the poem was uninterpretable, but I was bothered that I hadn’t been given any idea that a young girl’s murder was involved in the explanation of Lydia’s death. I think the book would have been better if things had been more obvious and we all had ‘ah ha!’ moments when we saw the poem near the end of the book.

Darcy was one of only a handful of dislikable characters in the book and therefore I was slightly surprised that he was the murderer since I’ve come to expect the device of one of the more sympathetic characters being the real bad guy.

[Final Thoughts]

Well this is the only book in the series that I’ve read and I’d give it four stars. I liked it but it hasn’t left me desperate to read all the other episodes. I thought it stood well as a stand alone, I don’t feel that I need to know about the books on either side of it. I’d be more likely to read another Crombie if it was a standalone I think. Whilst I liked the central characters I liked the peripheral characters more and I’d rather read about a whole different set.