Perhaps it is a blessing when Jasmine Dent dies in her sleep. At long last an end has come to the suffering of a body horribly ravaged by disease. It may well have been suicide; she had certainly expressed her willingness to speed the inevitable. But small inconsistencies lead her neighbor, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid of Scotland Yard, to a startling conclusion: Jasmine Dent was murdered. But if not for mercy, why would someone destroy a life already so fragile and doomed? As Kincaid and his capable and appealing assistant Sergeant Gemma James sift through the dead woman's strange history, a troubling puzzle begins to take shape -- a bizarre amalgam of good and evil, of charity and crime . . . and of the blinding passions that can drive the human animal to perform cruel and inhuman acts.
Written with compassion, clarity, wit and precision, this graceful mystery amply fulfills the promise of Crombie's debut novel, A Share in Death. ``Morphine coats the mind like peach fuzz,'' thinks Jasmine Dent, a 50-year-old spinster born in India who is dying in London of lung cancer. Her death resembles suicide but leaves her friend and neighbor from the flat above, Scotland Yard Supt. Duncan Kincaid, uneasy. The postmortem he orders reveals an overdose of morphine, prompting him and his sergeant, hot-tempered, copper-haired Gemma James, on a thorough investigation. Suspects include 30-ish, disheveled Meg Bellamy, a timid friend with whom Jasmine had considered suicide, and the downstairs neighbor known as the Major, a veteran of the Muslim-Hindu clashes in Calcutta in 1946 and an avid gardener with whom Jasmine had often sat ``like two old dogs in the sun.'' Others include Meg's stunningly handsome, bullying beau Roger, who urged that she help Jasmine end her life; Felicity Howarth, Jasmine's faithful home-care nurse who slaves to keep her brain-damaged son in an institution; and Jasmine's weak-willed brother Theo, owner of a village junk shop who has failed at every venture he's tried. Helped by Jasmine's journal and a visit to a mental hospital, the clues finally click into place to reveal the culprit. Meg makes a decision that promises hope for two people, while Gemma and Duncan, both unlucky in love, move closer to each other.