Monday, June 8, 2009

Little Lamb Lost, by Margaret Fenton

Little Lamb Lost marks the debut of novelist Margaret Fenton, and introduces a new detective into the mystery genre– Claire Conover.

Claire is a young social worker with the Department of Human Services in Birmingham , focused on helping kids from troubled homes. And yet, when one of her young clients is found dead, her faith in her abilities at her job is shaken. Could the child be dead because of her own mistakes in the casework? Faced with the loss of both reputation and career, Claire sets out to seek answers, even as the boy’s mother is arrested for the crime. Claire is armed with little more than determination and a belief in the young mother’s innocence , yet continues undaunted even as she begins to fear for her life.

This is a gripping, fast paced book and the author keeps us guessing right till the end. Thrills, car chases and red herrings abound, as Claire inches closer to the truth and suspects multiply. She finds allies in some unexpected places, and a very interesting romantic triangle develops . Claire is also confronted with unpleasant family secrets and the corrosive effects of drug addiction and abuse .

Debut novels often borrow from the author’s own life, and this one is no exception. Much like her heroine, the author has also worked in child and family welfare, and lives in the Birmingham area in which this story is set. This book is commendably rich in detail; the area of Birmingham comes alive in Fenton’s descriptions of it - I especially enjoyed the detailing of Claire's drives and even the car chase sequences. Also food - a lot of the scenes play out over lovingly described meals that Claire rather guiltily enjoys, even as she worries bout her weight. Claire the novice detective is nowhere in the league of her peers yet – Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone readily come to mind - but makes up for this with dogged determination , a keen understanding of people and a dedication to helping people find their way.

The writing does have some uneven moments, especially in the development of Claire’s romance. The denouement also feels rushed, and rather conveniently wound up. And while impulsive, risk taking Claire chooses gentle nerd Grant over the dashing Kirk, surely there is a crackle of unresolved attraction there that begs to be explored? Nevertheless, this book offers much to hook mystery buffs - a gutsy and endearing heroine, a good hand with mystery plotting, and the promise of much more to come in future Conover capers.

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