Being a female Irish crime writer seems to lead to inevitable comparisons with Tana French. I can understand publishers wishing to capitalise on French’s success, but I think it does a disservice to Jane Casey, who is writing a very different type of procedural but just happens to come from the same place. The Burning is the first in her series featuring DC Maeve Kerrigan, a 28 year old Irish woman working for the Metropolitan Police and her partner Rob Langton. On the basis of The Burning, where Casey expertly mixes police procedural with psychological thriller, there is no need for her to stand in anyone’s shadow.
Maeve Kerrigan is a 28-year-old Detective Constable with the Metropolitan Police in London, who along with her partner, Rob Langton, is part of the team investigating a series of gruesome murders by a serial killer nicknamed the ‘Burning Man’. He is killing young women in an area of London, dumping and burning their bodies. As the book opens, a fifth body, that the beautiful and successful Rebecca Haworth has been found, however at closer examination, her murder appears to be a copycat. Kerrigan is tasked with looking into Rebecca’s life to try and confirm if she is indeed a victim of the notorious serial killer, or if there is something even more complex going on.
The Burning has quite a few things going for it.
Firstly there is Maeve Kerrigan, a smart and likeable character to hang a book on. She is eager and incisive, but must also deal with the petty work harassment she receives because of her sex and her Irish heritage
He had pretty much just called me a drunk. The same old rubbish all over again: of course I was a drinker, I was Irish. ‘Mine’s a pint of Guinness – no, make that two pints with a whiskey chaser.’ Never mind the fact that my parents were both teetotal, that I hadn’t tasted alcohol until I was twenty and that when I drank, I preferred red wine.
She is struggling to manage the strained relationship with her mother, her live-in boyfriend Ian resents the time she spends at work and she is confused by the burgeoning feelings she has for her partner Rob. She makes for an intriguing lead, her self-doubt coupled with her determination and it is easy to empathise with Maeve as the lines between her work and private life blur.
Secondly there is the structure of the book. As Maeve delves in to Rebecca Haworth’s life, the story is told in alternating chapters, either by Maeve, or by Rebecca’s best friend, the mousey Louise North, who is finding her true self in the loss of her glamourous friend. As it becomes clear that the answers to what happened to Rebecca lie in her past, Casey manages to juggle not one bit three major plot strands and it is testament to her skill that all work together for the good of the whole. She has spread her net wide in The Burning and it works successfully for the most part. Information is drip fed, possible suspects are lined up and although the killer may not be just so difficult to spot, the motivation for the crime is as interesting as the crime itself. Some other characters are also given a chapter from their point of view, but I felt the book worked best when it focused on Maeve and Louise, both searching for the truth – one from the outside and one from the inside.
Rebecca’s murder was a heavy stone dropped in the pool of her family and friends’ lives. None of them would be unaffected by the ripples that spread out from it
The Burning reads like a police procedural wrapped up in a complex psychological thriller and is all the more effective for it and while the case of The Burning Man becomes unexpectedly sidelined by the narrative, it is not forgotten and is itself satisfactorily resolved.
I did have some small quibbles – some characters aren’t as fleshed out as others, some even feel like stock characters but in a narrative this complex, that is easy to forgive. This is also the first in a series, so as the books progress, I would assume that the characters will too. The trope of the confessional letter is also used and while effective in tying up any loose ends that may linger, it is a tad too detailed to be realistic.
Overall though, The Burning is a really accomplished crime thriller that is happy to wrong foot the reader without tripping you up entirely. I look forward to revisiting Maeve Kerrigan and her world again.
Have any of you read any further in the Maeve Kerrigan series? I would love to hear what you think!
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