The Last Girl by Jane Casey

Oh Jane!

After four books – three of them in the Maeve Kerrigan series – I’m seeing a pattern. You do so many things exceedingly well, but so often the final effect is rather spoilt by one or two things rather clumsily.

I will explain, but in doing that there may be a spoiler or two. Nothing too big, and I won’t name any names or reveal too mant plot details. I’ll just say that if you have read and liked the earlier books you’ll like this one too, so do read it and then come back to see if we agree. And if you haven’t and you like contemporary crime read on. If you like the sound of the series, you will miss a lot if you read out-of-order. So go back to the beginning (The Burning) and by the time you catch up with me you’ll have forgotten the things I’m going to let slip.

The opening was dramatic: a 14-year-old girl comes  home to and finds the bodies of her mother and twin sister in the living room, and her father gravely injured in a room upstairs.

Her father, Philip Kennford, was a criminal barrister at the very top of his profession, and so the pool of suspects was huge.

An interesting case for DC Maeve Kerrigan, a capable and engaging young DC. I’ve grown to like her over three books, her relationships with her colleagues, particularly the forthright, old-school DCI Derwent, are credible, and her relationship with colleague-turned-boyfriend Rob is evolving nicely.

There’s plenty to hold the interest there, and lots of potential for future books.

There was little physical evidence, and so the investigation focused on people from Phillip Kennford’s past who may have borne a grudge, and on the family itself.

The interviews with those people from the past were fascinating: a man wrongly convicted, who felt that his barrister had served him badly; a man whose daughter had been killed by her abusive boyfriend who then had to see a brilliant barrister convince the jury to find him not guilty; a woman whose barrister had failed to maintain a professional distance. The characterisation was perfect, and the stories said much about justice and the legal system.

And the Kennford family was fascinating to watch. A husband who did as he pleased; a wife who accepted that and played the perfect wife and mother to the hilt, knowing that her position was secure because her money underpinned their lifestyle; they were a couple with an understanding. And two different daughters: one dead and one terribly traumatised, and not speaking.

That Phillip Kennford didn’t like the police, and that they didn’t care for him, made things difficult.

There were so many possibilities, and so it was such a pity that it was obvious who the killer would be. There was a sudden shift in direction mid-book. And then one character came to the fore when there was no real reason for them to be there … unless they did it.

The finale was somewhat overwrought.

The logic and the psychology of the murder made sense, but it did rely on one huge coincidence, and I didn’t like the hint of “of course they were mad” and “of course they had a terrible childhood” at the end.

But I did like the book.  Jane Casey writes well, and though the story moved slowly I found there was always a development or an incident that held my attention.

So much good, so much potential in the series, but that makes the weaker elements so much harder to accept.

Oh Jane! I just want you to get everything right, because when you do you could have an outstanding piece of crime fiction on your hands, you really could …

Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

Crime Fiction Alphabet: J is for Jane

How lovely to find an author who shares my name to provide the letter J for my Crime fiction Alphabet!

DC Maeve Kerrigan is part of a team working on the case a murder case: the case of a serial killer who is preying upon young women who venture out late at night in south London, killing them and then burning their bodies.

The media has labelled him The Burning Man.

Now that really doesn’t sound like my kind of book, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt, because I had read, and very much enjoyed, Jane Casey’s previous book, The Missing. I’m very glad that I did, because The Burning is a very good psychological crime novel, and a wonderful step forward from Jane Casey’s first book: that was good, but this one is better.

The news breaks in the early hours of the morning that The Burning Man has claimed his fifth victim. But there are doubts. Yes a woman lies dead, yes her body has been burned, but there are differences from the first four murders.

And so it is that Maeve finds herself responsible for investigating the background of Rebecca Haworth,the fifth dead woman.

The Burning is not the story of a serial killer but the story of one woman’s experience as that serial killer is sought. A human drama set around a murder investigation.  

Maeve is new to the murder squad and eager to prove herself. Her family didn’t care for her choice of career but she loves her job, despite the anti-social hours, casual sexism, and ribbing about her Irish roots.

Character information came on a need-to-know basis, but it was enough. I liked Maeve, her warmth, her intelligence, the way she coped. I was quickly caught up as she investigated and interviewed friends, family, business associates of the dead woman.

The story that emerged was complex and captivating.

Most of the book is told from Maeve’s point of view, but there are also shorter chapters from the point of view of Louise, an old friend of the old woman. A contemporary of Maeve, but a very different woman, with a very different life. That gave the book another dimension, and helped to paint a better, clearer picture.

And at the very heart of this book was Rebecca, for me its most complex and most interesting character. Her story, much of which was unknown to and unexpected by those closest to her, was extraordinary and yet utterly credible.

There is high drama before the case is finally solved, by solid police work and just a little bit of luck.

It wasn’t surprising, but that wasn’t important. You see, I was hooked by those three women and their stories, and so the how and the why, completing their stories, was just as important as the who.

The conclusion worked perfectly. It was  quiet, but very, very effective, and there was a nice little sting in the tale.

Job done.

And now I’m looking forward to Jane Casey’s next book …


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, K is for … ?

The Missing by Jane Casey

Sarah’s childhood was destroyed when Charlie, her older brother went missing. One minute he was there and the next minute he was gone. Sarah was the last person known to have seen Charlie, and her mother has always believed that there was something that Sarah knew and would not tell, and blamed Sarah for the loss of her son.

Her mother turned to drink and her father left, and then died. Sarah stays to support her mother. A woman who shows no care, indeed shows disdain and even contempt, while she maintains her missing son’s bedroom as a shrine.

Now Sarah is a teacher. And a twelve-year-old girl from one of her classes, has gone missing. Again Sarah is again one of the last people to have seen the missing child. And then Sarah finds a body.

Old memories are stirred up. Sarah tries to help, and help she does, but that draws her further and further into the case. Are the two disappearances linked? And is it Sarah that links them?

Both stories are compelling and, though they are disturbing, it is quite impossible to stop turning the pages.

It works well because the characters, their motivations, their behaviour, are so well realised. There’s a good sized cast – teachers, pupils, neighbours, police, media – and it’s well used, but this is Sarah’s story. And although there were moments when I wanted to give her a good shake and point her in a different direction, I understood why she did what she did. And I felt for her when she wanted to help, when she wanted to reach out to the parents of the missing girl, but had to hold back. She couldn’t keep away from the case though, and that led her into trouble.

The story rings true. The details are right, and the twists, when they come, are in no way contrived. They flow naturally out of that story. And just as you think you have things figures out something else comes to light that makes you think again. It really is very well judged. Yes, there are one or two things that you know should not happen, particularly when Sarah finds out too much, but Jane Casey just about gets away with it, because the characters, the psychology and the emotions are always right.

Well she gets away with it until the ending. Overblown and melodramatic. Such a shame, because a striking, low-key ending that would have fitted the book perfectly was there for the taking. And after the way she handled the rest of the book I am quite sure that Jane Casey could have pulled it off.

That ending downgraded this from a great psychological mystery to a good one. But it’s still a fine debut, and I don’t doubt that Jane Casey has the potential to produce something top class before too long.

Library Loot

I’m trying to keep the library pile down. But I keep finding wonderful books. So what can I do? Here’s this week’s loot:

The Unspoken Truth by Angelica Garnett

“Real life and fiction meet as Angelica Garnett vividly evokes what it is to grow up in the shadow of artists. Her family appear in different guises in the stories, but at the centre of each one is Garnett herself. She is naive and foolish as Bettina, desperately seeking acceptance into the grown-ups circle (“When All the Leaves Were Green, My Love”); shy and cautious, but finally disloyal, as Agnes (“Aurore”); a hesitant, uncomfortable Emily (“The Birthday Party”); and a contemplative, even witty older woman, full of appetite and guilt, as Helen (“Friendship”). Spanning an entire life, each story reveals a figure trying to understand her place not only within the polished circle of her family, but in an ever-changing world. Sharply observing a colourful social milieu and the vibrant characters that populate it, these are stories about family and friendships, yet also curdled relationships and small betrayals. A fictional counterpoint to her acclaimed memoir, “Deceived with Kindness”, here is a portrait of a woman seeking an understanding and acceptance of her past.”

It was on the wishlist, it appeared and so it came home!

Love In The Sun by Leo Walmsley

One for my Read Cornwall campaign. Leo Walmsley was a Yorkshireman, but he lived in Cornwall for a number of years. he was a contemporary of Daphne Du Maurier, and here’s what she wrote about this book.

“”Love In The Sun” will make other writers feel ashamed. And, curiously enough, old-fashioned too. It is a revelation in the art of writing, and may be one of the pioneers of the new renaissance in the world of novels, a renaissance which shall and must take place in our time if the novel is to survive at all. While we struggle to produce our complicated plots, all sex and psychology, fondly imagining we are drawing modern life while really we are as demode as jazz and mah-jong. Leo Walmsley gives the weary reader a true story, classic in its simplicity of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy.

They converted an old army hut for their home, they made a garden, they grew vegetables, they used driftwood for their fire in winter, they caught mackerel for their food in summer, the sea and the soil sustained them during the long months so that the man could write his book and the girl could have her baby; and when both were accomplished life continued as before, the garden was trenched, the fishing lines were baited, fame and fortune had passed them by, but hope, and courage, and love were with them still. When we come to the end of the story, we know that the man will write other books, the girl will have other babies, flowers will continue to grow in their garden, they will go on living and loving, and creating thins because, like the plants in the soil they are the very stuff of life itself.

Yes, Leo Walmsley has filled me with shame. Our cheap artificial plots, distorting human nature to make it suit the jaded palate, must go on the scrap-heap. We are not worthy to be called writers if we cannot do what he has done in “Love In The Sun”, and show the novel-reading public that the simple thins of life are the only thins that matter, and that a man’s work, and his wife, and his baby, and his plot of earth, are more important than the drama and passion of the whole world, and that the world itself is not, and never has been the merciless vortex that so many of us make it out to be, but is and always will be a place of supreme adventure.”

So what do you make of that? Can you see why I had to bring it home?!

And that’s not all …

The Missing by Jane Casey

“Jenny Shepherd is twelve years old and missing…Her teacher, Sarah Finch, knows better than most that the chances of finding her alive are diminishing with every day she is gone. As a little girl her older brother had gone out to play one day and never returned. The strain of never knowing what has happened to Charlie had ripped Sarah’s family apart. Now in her early twenties, she is back living at home, trapped with a mother who drinks too much and keeps her brother’s bedroom as a shrine to his memory. Then, horrifically, it is Sarah who finds Jenny’s body, beaten and abandoned in the woods near her home. As she’s drawn into the police investigation and the heart of a media storm, Sarah’s presence arouses suspicion too. But it not just the police who are watching her…”

For the second week in a row Sophie Hannah made me bring a book home. Here’s what she said about this one:

“Compulsive, menacing and moving – a very satisfying psychological thriller.”

Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp

I can’t say too much about this one. It’s the third book in a wonderful trilogy, and if I told you anything it would give away significant details about the book that preceded it. And I was very careful not say too much when I wrote about that book here.

What I will say is that Margery Sharp is a wonderful issue and it is appalling that only one of her books is in print.

Will somebody please reissue a few more?!

And there is a wonderful site, devoted to Margery Sharp here.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

Eva is in charge of Library Loot this week. And she has a wonderful selection of books that you really should see.