Fate plays an interesting turn of events in all our lives, because I first met the journalist and broadcaster Maureen Carter back in 2000 at a Dead-on-Deansgate Gala Dinner when I shared a table with her and Julia Wallis Martin. Maureen had just launched Working Girls to great acclaim with Flambard Press.
Working Girls is a remarkable novel set amongst the prostitutes and pimps that litter the dark alleyways of Birmingham. Despite its dark subject, Working Girls is full of brash Midlands humour and a keenly researched thriller. Over dinner Maureen, Julia and I had a real laugh as I enjoyed her sense of fun and that, despite her dark imagination.
I noticed she had switched publishers to the newest UK crime fiction publishing house - Crème-de-la-Crime and we met at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Bristol. I wondered what she'd been up to and she agreed over a couple of glasses of wine to tell me. So notebook in hand and glass of wine in the other, I'm pleased to let you all know about the return of Maureen Carter – Ali Karim
Baby Love published this June by Crème de la Crime is the third in Maureen Carter's gritty and authentic police series featuring the complex and highly vocal Detective Sergeant Bev Morriss. Bev, as one critic put it, 'has a gob on her'. She shoots from the lip and it gets her into as many scrapes as it gets her out. Carter prefers to think of her creation as lippie but loveable – a detective whose words are her sharpest weapon. Ironically, they're also her most effective defence.
The same reviewer said of Birmingham's feistiest female cop: 'many writers would sell their first born for the ability to create such a distinctive 'voice' in a main character.'
Carter says, 'Bev's the Ruby Wax, the Sharon Osborne, the Joan Rivers – you get the picture? – of crime fighting. Whereas you and I might come up with a sharp one-liner when it's too late, Bev's on the verbal button every time. Published by Crème de la Crime, Bev Morriss hit the crime fiction scene in 2004 in Working Girls. The story's an exploration of schoolgirl prostitution that stemmed from Carter's work as a BBC TV news reporter. Carter went on to present Newsnight and then produced daily news programmes but a good deal of the writing comes from her twenty-plus years' experience as an on-the-road journalist.
'I'd interviewed quite a few women who were on the so-called “game”. There's nothing funny about it. These were real women, with real lives and real problems – and I was fed up of seeing them portrayed in fiction as one-dimensional cut-outs.'
It was difficult to weave their gruesome stories with the sardonic humour that's an integral part of her writing style. But, 'One of the things that struck me during the research was that many of the women used humour to get them through.'
This delicate balancing of grim reality and dark wit also features in Dead Old, Bev Morriss's second outing under Crème de la Crime's colours.
'Again, the original idea came from a story I covered many years ago, the sad and sadistic murder of an elderly woman in the city [Birmingham]. She'd been picking daffodils on her allotment. When the crew and I arrived at the crime scene, the flowers were lying scattered around, flung out as she was attacked. It was an image that remained with me. I learned later that the victim was a retired doctor. Not only that but some years earlier, for just one appointment, I'd actually been her patient.' Dead Old – described by the crime writer J Wallis Martin, as 'complex, chilling and absorbing – is the result.
'It's also a look at how we perceive and treat the elderly – particularly women – in our youth-orientated society,' says Carter. 'Many old women feel they're invisible. No one notices them any more. But again, they're real women, with real lives and fascinating stories. I try to reflect that in the narrative.'
Baby Love is the first book not to have its genesis in a news story that Carter covered. 'I've certainly covered crimes involving child victims but nothing remotely similar to the events that unfold in this book. One aspect is based on experience though and that's how people – from police officers to the public – react when a child goes missing. Emotions run high. I hope I've captured that adrenalin rush.'
Though used to hitting deadlines, Carter's never before worked under such a tight timeframe. She put in ten/eleven hour days, six/seven days a week and completed the first draft almost a month ahead of schedule. 'These puns are really not intended,' she says, 'but Baby Love was a labour of love from conception to delivery. I really put Bev through the wringer in this story. Even Morriss the Mouth is speechless at one point. Mind, she is fighting for her life.'
Apparently, several spooky incidents happened as Carter was writing Baby Love. For instance, 'Early on, I alluded in the text to a truly evil crime that took place in England nearly thirty years ago. Within twenty-four hours of my writing that sequence, out-of-the-blue, there was a major development in the story that made every front page, TV and radio bulletin in the country.'
Spookiest of all is this: rainbows, both real and manufactured, feature in the narrative, as does the number thirteen. On the day Carter finished writing the book, as she was printing the first copy, she turned to look through the first-floor office window. Chapter Thirteen was coming off the printer and arcing a heavy grey sky directly opposite was a stunning rainbow. 'If I'd turned a minute later, I'd have missed it. When I saw it – the hairs rose on the back of my neck. I couldn't believe the coincidence. I raced down to take a picture – just in case no one believed me. Journalistic licence and all that!'
Journalism and reporters feature in all three Bev Morriss titles. Given Carter's media background had she not been tempted when creating the series to write from a journalist's point of view? 'No. Never. That would have been too easy. One of the reasons I write crime fiction is that I'm fascinated by the spiky relationship between the police and the media. It's incredibly complex: symbiotic on one hand but full of conflict on the other. As a journo, I've been there, done that. Writing as Bev means I get to explore it from a totally different viewpoint. I actually give the media quite a hard time in my books. But they're big boys and girls, quite capable of taking care of themselves.'
Hard Time is the working title for Carter's next novel and Bev's fourth outing. 'I'm developing a major new character this time round: a police officer who gives up the job to become a reporter. I recently met a guy who did exactly that. I interviewed him at length subsequently and garnered some great material for background.'
A case of gamekeeper turned poacher? No doubt Bev'd have a few words to say about that.
If you've not read Maureen Carter, then it's time to head to Midlands fast!http://www.cremedelacrime.com/
More information on the work of Maureen Carter and the exciting Crème de la Crime publishing list :-
Article © 2006 Shots Ezine
Photographs © Ali Karim