The Last Girl is the third in Jane Casey’s popular and critically acclaimed Maeve Kerrigan series, with the most recent installment, The Cutting Place, just published. While the books can be read out of order, I would advise starting at the beginning, because one of the pleasures of this series is seeing the relationships between recurring characters grow and change.
In this installment. London Met detective Maeve Kerrigan is called to the scene of a double murder in a large house in Wimbledon, the home of prominent barrister Philip Kennford. Kennford’s wife has been viciously stabbed and his fifteen year old daughter Laura has had her throat cut. He has been knocked unconcious and the only member of the family unharmed is Laura’s twin and Kennford’s other daughter, Lydia, who was swimming in their pool at the time of the attacks.
Did Kennford stage his own attack and kill his wife and child? His arrogance, complicated love-life and lack of willingness to help police means he is not being ruled out. Were the family victims of a disgruntled former client? There are quite a few of them, including a teacher wrongly accused of a relationship with a pupil and the father of a murder victim whose killer Kennford helped to get off. Or what about Kennford’s ex-lover who has links to a criminal drug-running gang? Then there is his estranged daughter from his first marriage, supermodel Savannah Wentworth, whose alibi for the night is flimsy to say the least.
The investigation plays out against the backdrop of a sweltering London summer, with the relentless heat pushing tensions to the limit. Maeve is now living with her boyfriend Rob, but they barely see each other and Maeve is unsure why he is being so cagey about his new position within the force.
Maeve’s partner Derwent is as sexist and rude as ever, although there are signs that he may be grudgingly accepting the fact that Maeve is a good investigator.
Storylines from the previous books, about Maeve’s stalker and an ongoing drug-trafficking case are neatly woven into this new investigation, although at times there can be a lot of sub-plots here jostling for attention.
A lot of time is spent with characters who may or may not have a grudge against Kennford and while this does widen the field of potential suspects and keep the reader guessing, it means that the book loses pace and left me with the feeling that, with a little editing, it could have been a lot tighter.
Despite this, The Last Girl is an interesting exploration of the idea of justice and what can happen when justice is seemingly denied. Casey is a strong writer, particularly in the realm of the police procedural, and has assembled an intriguing set of characters. Casey also explores the male-female working dynamic very well, particularly as it stands in the police force and the changing relationship between Kerrigan and Derwent is an intriguing and often entertaining one.
Crime novels can be as complex and plot-driven as they like, but if the lead character isn’t memorable, then there is the risk of the book becoming forgettable. However, with Kerrigan, Casey has created a dynamic, sharp-witted protagonist to match classic detectives such as Jane Tennison, or John Rebus. Maeve drives the plot as much as the crimes do and I find myself reading as much to find out about what it going to happen to Maeve.
Even with some pacing issues, The Last Girl 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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