Necessary As Blood
"...Crombie has a fine eye for the details of London and how its
myriad neighborhoods are changing. Necessary as Blood is another solid
entry in her superior series."
The Florida Sun-Sentinel
Crombie’s latest Kincaid and James crime story is as rich in its picture of
cultural and racial flux as it is in its framework of family dynamics… this latest in Crombie’s series tells a subtle and moving character-driven story. — Booklist
In this dazzling addition to Deborah Crombie's acclaimed mystery series, a disappearance, a murder, and a child in danger lead Scotland Yard detectives Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid into London's legendary East End…to solve one of the most challenging and disturbing cases they've ever faced. . . . — Fantastic Fiction
NECESSARY AS BLOOD is a fine fresh entry… — The Mystery GazetteWilliam Morrow - 2009 - ISBN: 978-0-06-128753-4
Ooops! Due to an unfortunate production error, my Acknowledgments
page was left out of the first print run of Necessary As Blood! A lot
of generous people shared their time and expertise with me, so I could
make this book as interesting and accurate as possible. I thank them,
one and all.
Writers are not isolated creatures, and books are built on so many
things-bits read, bits heard, bits remembered-that a writer can only
begin to thank all those who contributed to the making of a novel.
So, then, where to begin?
Thanks to Darcy Falk, textile artist in Flagstaff, Arizona, whose
beautiful works helped serve as a blueprint for the collages I was
creating in my head, and who was kind enough to answer my detailed
questions and even sent me fabric samples.
Thanks to Rosalie Stevens and Ian Richardson, for their
friendship and hospitality, and especially for introducing me to the
Thanks to Barb Jungr, the 'Great Conduit', for her friendship and
support as well as her inspiring talent.
Jan Gephardt was kind enough to share her amazing journals with me,
although I'm afraid I didn't do them justice.
Kevin Caruth of Urban Gentry, London Tours for the Savvy Visitor, gave
me a tantalizing glimpse of the East London art world (and blisters).
Steve Ullathorne took terrific author photos, fabulous London photos,
and gave ready help and advice on all things London.
Much appreciation to the staff at the Hoxton, Shoreditch, who looked
after me well during a long sojourn in the East End, providing
wonderfully quirky maps and suggestions, and to the staff at the Hotel
Lumen in Dallas for giving me much needed sanctuary, and to Brandt
Wood for the introduction.
As always, Marcia Talley, Kate Charles, and the members of the Every
Other Tuesday Night Writer's Group provided plot-fest and support, and
special thanks to those brave first readers; Diane Hale, Steve
Copling, Tracy Ricketts, and especially Gigi Norwood, who knows all
too well how much writers (or at least this one) can whine.
Gigi Norwood also taught me to use her sewing machine, and Tracy
Ricketts provided advice on social service matters, and just as
Arabella Stein first introduced me to the beautiful services provided
by Humanist celebrants in the UK.
No book would be complete without Laura Maestro's wonderful maps, and
here she has brought the East End to life.
My agent, Nancy Yost, is just simply the best.
I could not have written this book without the support and
encouragement of my editor, Carrie Feron, and all the team at
HarperCollins who continue to do such a wonderful job on the books.
Rick and Kayti deserve extra special thanks, as always, for all they
Any mistakes are entirely my own.
Umbra Sumus-"We are shadows."
--inscription on the sundial of the Huguenot church, now the Jamme Masjid mosque, on Brick Lane
That Sunday began like any ordinary Sunday, except that Naz, Sandra’s husband, had gone in to work for a few hours at his law office, an unusual breach of family protocol for him.
Having pushed aside her initial irritation, Sandra had decided to use the time for one of her own projects, and after breakfast and chores she and Charlotte had gone up to her studio on the top floor of the house.
After two hours’ work, Sandra stepped back, frowning, from the swatches of fabric she had pinned to the muslin stretched over the work frame in her studio. The carefully shaped pieces of material overlapped, forming a kaleidoscope of images, so that at first the whole appeared abstract, but on closer inspection, shapes appeared: streets, buildings, people, birds, other animals, flowers—all representing in some way the history and culture of Sandra’s particular part of London, the East End, in and around Brick Lane.
Sandra’s love affair with fabrics had begun as child, with the acquisition of a tattered quilt from a market stall on Brick Lane. She and her gran had pored over it, marveling at the intricacy of the pattern, wondering which bits had come from an Auntie Mary’s best pinney, which from a little girl’s Sunday dress, which from an Uncle George’s cast-off pajamas.
That passion had survived art college, and the pressure to join the vogue for shock art. She had learned to draw and to paint, and gradually she’d translated those skills into what she still thought of as painting with fabric. But unlike paint, fabric was tactile and three-dimensional, and the work fascinated her as much now as it had done when she had haltingly composed her very first piece.
Today, however, something wasn’t quite right. The piece wasn’t generating the emotional impact she wanted, and she couldn’t quite work out what was wrong. She moved a color here, a shape there, stepped back for a different perspective and frowned again. The dark brick of Georgian town houses formed a frame for a cascade of color—it might have been Fournier Street, or Fashion Street, with the women parading in their gowns, intricately worked iron cages held high in their hands. The wire cages held, however, not birds, but women and children’s faces, dark to light, a few framed by the hijab.
Late morning sun poured through the great windows in the loft—a blessing for the warmth in mid-winter if not in mid-May—but it was the clarity of the light that had drawn her to the place, and still, even when the work wasn’t going well, had the power to hold her transfixed.
She and Naz had bought the Fournier Street house more than a decade ago, when they were first married, disregarding rising damp, crumbling plaster, and minimal plumbing, because Sandra had seen the potential of the studio space. And it had been affordable on Naz’s solicitor’s earnings while Sandra was still in art school. They had worked hard, making many of the repairs themselves, to create their vision of a home, not realizing that in a few years’ time they would be sitting on a property gold mine.
For the town houses on Fournier Street were Georgian, built by the French Huguenot silk weavers who had come to London’s Spitalfields to escape persecution in Catholic France. The weavers had done well for themselves for a time, their looms clicking in their spacious lofts, the women congregating on the front stoops in their lustrous taffeta gowns, while their canaries sang in the cages they carried as marks of status.
But cheap calico imports from India had threatened the weavers’ livelihood, and the invention of the mechanized loom had sounded its death knell. New waves of immigrants had followed the Huguenots—the Jews, the Irish, the Bangladeshis, the Somalis—but none had prospered as the Huguenots had done, and the houses had sunk into a long, slow decay.
Until now. Despite the recession, the City was moving relentlessly eastwards, encroaching on Spitalfields, bringing a new wave of immigrants. But these were yuppies with fat pocketbooks who were snapping up the houses and warehouses of the old East End, pushing the lower-income residents out as they came in. For the present bled into the past, and the past into the present, always, and to Sandra it seemed particularly so in the East End, where the years accumulated in layers like the fabrics on her board.
Sandra sighed and rubbed her fingers over the scrap of peacock blue taffeta she held in her hand, contemplating its position in the overall design of her collage. It was inevitable, she supposed, change, and she had friends now on both sides of the economic divide—and if anything, she owed her ability to make her living as an artist to those on the upper end of the scale.
She glanced at the pile of fabric scraps under the loft casement. Charlotte lay nestled among the silks and voiles, drawn like a cat to the pool of sunlight. She had settled there when she tired of a long and one-sided conversation with her favorite stuffed elephant—Charlotte, like her mother before her, would have nothing to do with dolls.
Graceful as a cat, too, her little daughter, even asleep with her thumb in her mouth, thought Sandra. At almost three, Charlotte had held on to her thumb sucking a bit too long, but Sandra found herself reluctant to deprive her precocious child of a last vestige of infant comfort.
Her frustration with the collage-in-progress momentarily forgotten, Sandra grabbed a sketchbook and pencil from her worktable. Quickly, she blocked out the spill of fabric, the small French panes of the casement, the curve of Charlotte’s small body in dungarees and T-shirt, the delicate and slightly snub-nosed face framed by the mass of toffee-colored curls.
The sketch cried out for color and Sandra exchanged her number 2 for a handful of colored pencils pulled from a chipped Silver Jubilee mug—a flea-market treasure kept for its accidental misspelling of the Duke of Edinburgh’s name.
Red for the dungarees, pink for the T-shirt, bright blues and greens for the puddled silks, warm brown for the polished floorboards.
Absently, she went back to the silks, her hand attempting to reproduce the half-formed memory of an intricate silk pattern she had seen. It had been sari silk, like those spilled on her floor, but an unusual pattern, tiny birds handwoven into the apple green fabric. She’d asked the girl who wore it where it had come from, and the child had answered in soft, halting English, saying her mother had given it to her. But when Sandra asked if her mother had bought it here, in London, the girl had gone mute and looked frightened, as if she’d spoken out of bounds. And the next time Sandra visited, she had been gone.
Sandra frowned at the recollection and Charlotte stirred, as if unconsciously responding. Afraid she would lose her opportunity to capture the tableau, Sandra reached for her camera and snapped. She checked the image, nodding as she saw Charlotte’s sleeping face framed by silk, timeless now.
Timeless, like the faces in the cages in her collage… A sudden inspiration made her glance at the collage. What if… What if she used photo transfer for the faces of the women and girls, rather than fabric and paint? She could use the faces of women and children she knew, if they would agree.
Charlotte stretched and opened her eyes, smiling sleepily. A good-natured child, Charlotte was seldom cross unless tired or hungry, a blessing Sandra was sure she had not bestowed on her own mum. Setting down her camera, she knelt and lifted her daughter. “Nice nap, sweetie?” she asked as Charlotte twined her arms round her neck for a hug. Charlotte’s hair was damp from sun and sleep and her pale caramel skin still held a faint scent of baby muskiness, but she didn’t give her mother much chance to nuzzle.
Squirming from Sandra’s arms, she went to the worktable. “Duck pencils, Mummy,” she said, eyeing the empty mug. “I want to draw, too.”
Sandra considered, glancing at the clock, at the sun-brightened windows, and once again at the half-finished collage on the worktable. She knew from experience that she’d reached the point where staring at the board wouldn’t provide a solution, and besides, she wanted to try out her photo idea. A break was in order.
It was not quite noon, Charlotte had been up early and Sandra had let her fall asleep before her usual nap time. They’d agreed to meet Naz for lunch at two, that is, if he could drag himself away from the office. She gave a sharp shake of her head at the thought. He and Lou had both been working much too hard on an upcoming case, and Naz was showing uncharacteristic signs of strain. Family Sundays had always been a priority for them, especially since Charlotte’s birth, as they both were determined to give her the secure childhood neither of them had had.
Naz had been orphaned, his Christian parents murdered in Pakistan by the swell of fundamentalist Muslim violence in the seventies. Sent to London in the care of an aunt and uncle who felt themselves burdened by the charge, he had grown up adjusting to the loss of both family and culture.
And Sandra, well, her family didn’t bear thinking about.
But as for her husband, no Bangladeshi restaurant owner’s troubles with the law were worth damaging what they had so carefully built. She would have to have a word with Naz. In the meantime, it was a perfect May day, and there was still time to go to Columbia Road.
“I have a better idea,” she told Charlotte, putting the pencils firmly back in the cup. “Let’s go see Uncle Roy.”