A native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland, Deborah Crombie is a three-time Macavity Award winner, an Edgar Award nominee, and a New York Times Notable author. Her latest novel, No Mark Upon Her, is an absorbing, finely hued tale of suspense—a deeply atmospheric and twisting mystery full of deadly secrets, salacious lies, and unexpected betrayals involving the mysterious drowning of a Met detective—an accomplished rower—on the Thames. Here, Crombie explains, why rowing?
I've always considered writing novels an excuse to learn about new things, and in fourteen books I've researched the tea trade, the evacuation of children from London during the Blitz, new-age Glastonbury, racial unrest in Notting Hill, narrow boats on the English waterways, Art Deco jewelry, whisky distilling in the Scottish Highlands, firefighting in London...and so much more. All things, I have to admit, about which I knew next to nothing when I began a book.
But in No Mark Upon Her, I think I outdid myself in rashness. I am the most un-athletic person imaginable. The kid who was picked last for school sports. The woman whose idea of a good workout is walking the dog. And so I decided to write about rowing, one of the toughest and most physically demanding sports in the world. Like one of my characters, I was enchanted by the sight of rowing and sculling, by the grace and beauty of the long, slender boats skimming the water.
If you are going to write about rowing in England, you must start with Leander Club in the beautiful and historic town of Henley-on-Thames. Founded in 1818, Leander Club is the most prestigious and successful rowing club in the world, with 99 Olympic gold medals won by its members. Through an introduction by a friend, I was invited to stay at Leander and get a real-life, close-up look at what it takes to be a competitive rower and an Olympic contender.
What I learned? That rowing may look beautiful but it is physically brutal. That rowers, male and female, drive themselves beyond pain and exhaustion every single day. That rowing requires obsession (and obsession always provides good material for crime novels).
And I got to row. Sir Steve Williams, two-time Olympic gold medal winner for Great Britain in the coxless four, offered to take me out for a lesson in a double scull. I have never been so terrified. And never so exhilarated. I learned what it was like for my characters to be out on the river, to feel the boat move in rhythm with the pull of the oars, to watch the light fade over the Thames. I learned why rowers do what they do, in a way that no amount of reading could ever capture.