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by Maureen Carter
Crème de la Crime, March 2011
224 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 1780290004

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Maureen Carter is one of crime fiction's best-kept secrets. Her DS Bev Morriss series for small indie publisher Crème de la Crime is one of my big favourites, and her clipped storytelling and sparky dialogue surpass that of many writers published by much bigger houses.

Crème de la Crime has now been taken over by Severn House, and Carter introduces us to two new lead characters in A QUESTION OF DESPAIR. We're still in Birmingham, the UK's second city, but this time in the company of DI Sarah Quinn, aka the Ice Queen, and TV reporter Caroline King. And when the two are in the same place at the same time, sparks fly.

Quinn and her colleagues are trying to track down the abductor of baby Evie, who was snatched from outside a newsagent's. King, a real foot-in-the-door journalist, has an unerring eye for a story and trying to stop her is like getting in the way of a juggernaut.

As you'd expect from Carter, the tone is dark and the action zips along at a good pace, thanks to the hard, flinty prose and the unmistakable backdrop of Birmingham. She does overdo the clipped slang occasionally, though – and the overuse of the word 'lady' every time Sarah's largely absent boyfriend addresses her grates after a while as well.

Carter is seemingly incapable of writing a bad book, and A QUESTION OF DESPAIR is certainly worth the time spent with it. But it's curiously low on tension at times, probably because there's too much of the antagonism between the two main characters and not enough focus on the case. Carter's an ex-reporter herself but just occasionally it feels as if she's gone over the top with Caroline. We don't have to like characters, but we have to care about them – and at times it's hard to do that with both Sarah and Caroline. And that makes the revelation near the end of what's the caused the bad blood between them faintly anti-climatic.

And that's the difference, really, between A QUESTION OF DESPAIR and the Bev Morriss series. Bev is stroppy, difficult and a disaster waiting to happen half the time – but we never stop caring about her. And maybe with time, we'll do the same with Sarah once she and her abrasive colleagues have had time to find their feet.

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, May 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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