Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book Review: Maureen Carter - Death Line

There are many pleasures to be had in attending the Lowdham Book Festival: not least of these is to pick up an annual fix of crime fiction (note: I read it the rest of the year too, but I always KNOW I can get some goodies at Lowdham).

Chiefly, this comes via the regular appearance of Creme de la Crime, the publishing house that has been attending Lowdham for several years now - and to whom I run for my annual intake of Bev Morriss-ness. This year I had the bonus of author Maureen Carter speaking at the conference, in conversation with Lynne Patrick (a core part of Creme de la Crime) and new fiction novelist Chris Nickson whose book 'The Broken Token' I am very much looking forward to reading!

Anyway. Regular readers here will know my love for Maureen Carter's flawed lead character Morriss: she has so far appeared in Working Girls, Dead Old, Baby Love, Hard Time, Bad Press and last year, Blood Money. This year's Death Line is another page-turning volume. Whilst each are self-contained stories, suitable for new readers with sufficient background to fill in previous plotlines, those who read the tales in order - who develop their connections to characters - will be richly rewarded for their attentions.

Though Carter specialises in gritty narratives (Lawrence Block's 'Burglar' series is rare in driving a crime narrative with humour, though I'm up for other recommendations), at least Bev is no longer quite in the horrifically dark descending pit she was in Blood Money. By end of this novel though...

I'm torn at this point because I would love to say more about how the novel made me feel, especially by the end. Because it is one hell of an ending. In common with the previous six novels in the series, Carter constructs a tightly woven narrative where the reader is given tantalising glimpses of additional information to see inside character's behaviour - and it isn't always clearly the perpetrator. Carter always holds enough back to keep us guessing, but carefully feeds her readers' paranoia and puzzlement. Never one to shy away from harsh realities (whilst equally never gratuitous), Carter can turn a metaphorical knife into her readers within a few lines. And she certainly does that as the novel reaches its climax.

One of the real rewards of reading a series - and part of the reason why the ending of this novel cuts so deep - is that Carter is so scrupulous in constructing three-dimensional characters; each of the recurring characters especially are beautifully fleshed out as the ongoing arc of Morriss' career continues. Characters who you are initially led to feel dismissive of develop before your eyes, making you far more interested in them than you thought possible; others are brought in, but they always feel as if they can be seen and heard effectively. And always at the heart there is...

I'll leave you to read them now, catch up if you haven't read any already. But for those who have been following this through the previous volumes, get ready.

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