After the Fire by Jane Casey
Mysteries lie within mysteries in Jane Casey’s sixth Maeve Kerrigan novel…
but was it arson, an accident, or murder?
It was twitter that introduced me to Jane Casey and the Maeve Kerrigan series – a turn of good fortune I’ve celebrated since opening the first page of book one, The Burning, right through to closing her latest, After the Fire. They’re compelling, edgy, reads with some of the most dynamic characters in crime fiction.
After the Fire is one of the best within the series too. Starting with a blaze ravaging the top floors of a London tenement, killing three and leaving many injured or sick, the novel is explosive from the outset. And it only becomes more so when one of the victims turns out to be a much despised politician whose views on race and class make him an unwelcome presence in the community. Was it arson? An accident? Or could there have been one particular target in mind? For detective constable Maeve Kerrigan, the mystery is a complex tangle of suspects, complete with missing persons, desperate families, and potential gang members.
For fans, After the Fire is a gripping, gritty, return for Maeve Kerrigan and a story that brings together many of the subplots and secondary characters encountered in previous novels. Moreover, as the title suggests, there’s an element to the plot that makes it feel like the series has come full circle from The Burning. Whilst there remain many loose paths ahead for Casey to follow up on, there’s a conclusive element that many will enjoy.
On the other hand, for newcomers, there’s an exceptionally well-constructed and well-written narrative, a procedural that’s compulsive, alive with psychological twists, and stories within stories, mysteries within mysteries.
Because this novel, perhaps more so than any of Casey’s previous ones, is layered with family dramas and tragedies. She weaves a web that threads the novel together. There’s the old lady, moved into the flat by the council because they wanted her out of her own home. There’s the flat where a mother-in-law tyrannises her son and his wife. There’s the terrified survivor, hiding from her violent husband with her beautiful, patient son. There’s the three trafficked young women, desperate for escape.
It’s a tangle as complex as the lives it portrays – and a clever echo of the way Londoner’s overlap, cross paths, live on top of each other, but barely interact with those closest in proximity.
Throughout Casey’s series what stands out is her ability to weave authenticity into her thrillers and in this instance it’s striking in the way she establishes then delves into the lives of those affected by the fire. Characters are definitely one of her strengths as an author – something that if you read through the series becomes overt – and what I found to be most effective is the way she takes a cliché and transforms it, returning the realism to the stereotype.
The novel’s appreciation of realism offers another aspect worth highlighting. For one the ‘Justice for Levon’ campaign, which featured in previous novels, returns in a sensitive and eerie reflection of similar death-by-cop cases in recent years. The attention Casey gives to the campaign, the hurdles it faces and the bereavement of the mother are delicately handled whilst not shying from issues that are dark and difficult.
Likewise, there’s clever detailing given through interactions and dialogue. In Maeve’s relationship with the new DCI, Una Burt, there’s a thoughtfulness lent to the perceived sacrifices made by women in the police force. When dealing with the domestic abuse case, there’s an all-to-real reflection of disillusionment and frustration on the part of the investigating officers. And the dialogue itself is so sharp, paced to perfection, cutting sometimes, often shrewd.
Of course, as with most procedurals, After the Fire stands or falls on the appeal of the central characters – our crime fighting heroine, Maeve, and her senior partner DI Josh Derwent.
Maeve herself is one of those protagonists I feel I’ve been waiting to meet for a very long time. She’s brilliant, certainly, but as a young woman at the start of her career, she’s also flawed, sympathetic in her fears, passions, personal and professional relationships. Derwent too is brilliantly well-rendered. Cruel but lovely, loyal but laddy, he’s complex and ridiculous. I won’t be the only reader who finds him just a little bit thrilling. But it’s together that they’re most interesting. Their chemistry (which is mostly platonic) creates one of the best crime partnerships – right up their with Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. There’s a budding friendship between them, these two very different, spiky, independent personalities. There’s a frisson of something too, but despite how easy it would be for Casey to fall back on a theme of underlying sexual tension, she navigates around it. They spar, they parry, they reveal their best and worst by challenging each other. It makes their relationship wonderfully unique and engaging.
After the Fire is a brilliant read with something for returning readers as well as newcomers to the series. At times it may feel like a lot is going on and perhaps it’s not the best to start with in terms of how many stories there are to follow. But it’s compelling, gritty, and London is alive in this novel. Casey’s writing is certainly at its strongest and this is another brilliant outing for two of London’s best fictional detectives.
Find out more here: http://www.maevekerrigan.co.uk/
Follow Jane on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/JaneCaseyAuthor