You may remember from earlier in the week I had posted about meeting Maureen Carter, author of a series of crime novels, at the Lowdham Book Festival.
She was lovely and I am thrilled to report that she writes a darn fine bit of crime fiction too.
I've just galloped through reading Working Girls, the first in her series of novels about DS Bev Morriss. It was, as the saying goes, a page-turner.
As someone who comes from a tradition of loving Dorothy L Sayers (especially the Harriet Vane classics) AND Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder books (it's the New York/New Jersey thing) AND Ian "Oi!"* Rankin's Rebus series (the Scottish settings, hearing it in my head doesn't hurt), I found Carter's writing style incredibly easy to get into, with a real sense of character and a sharp ear for both spoken and internal dialogue. You can possibly attribute some of those things to her experience as a journalist and broadcaster - including working on the early years of Newsnight - but I'd personally say there's a considerable difference in writing fiction and writing/orally presenting factual narratives. It's to her credit that she brings the demands of journalism for spare if still engagingly fluid prose to conveying such a compelling tale without losing sight of what dramatic genre fiction needs. Good plots, convincing settings, internally consistent characterisation: check, check, check.
Of course, her writing clearly benefits from some tight observation of the worlds of policework and the aftermath of criminal activity. In "Working Girls", it's even possible to imagine the op-ed pieces that could have been constructed from the conversations with Vice/Child Protection Squads (a telling distinction alluded to in the Author's Note at the front of the book). But such articles would have been missing a crucial element, and one that truly brings the book to life.
Bev Morriss is a standout character with behaviour and foibles that draw the reader to empathise with her. Okay, so there is a certain projection of Carter herself in Morriss - that Johnny Depp obsession isn't going away any time soon is it? And yes, he would make an excellent Charlie Hawes - but the Morriss/Carter overlap is both an understandable and forgivable trick to pull. And it works. It would certainly explain why Morriss' charmingly caustic humour feels so real.
Carter is now up to her 4th Bev Morriss novel. I'm going to start the second one - Dead Old - as soon as I can (and then get the next two). It's always enjoyable to find a good series novel writer, and even if they do get hard to sustain, a recurrent character is a fine hook to draw a reader into the created world.
Overall remarks: recommended.
ASIDE: Maureen also has her own myspace page, designed by her daughter Sophie. Kudos for a clean design. I get quite dizzy with the number of websites out there who think all-singing, all-dancing backgrounds and multiple layers of text are the way forward. It's a relief to be able to read something with ease. My only criticism would be that white (or even coloured) text on a black background is generally a complete 'mare for anyone with dyslexia issues to read, but the colour scheme is in keeping with the Creme de la Crime palette so it's probably for keeps.
* Ian "oi!" Rankin: thus monikered for his (very) brief appearance in the first Ken Stott Rebus drama. When a leading character is attacked in the street we see a man in a coat at the top of the road point at the attacker and yell "Oi!". I don't think we see him again, and he certainly has no more dialogue (to our recollection: Cloud and I were too busy chuckling "that was Ian Rankin wasn't it?!). But henceforward the author has become known in our house as Ian "Oi!" Rankin.