Book Review: Let The Dead Speak, Jane Casey’s Twistiest Mystery Yet

Let The Dead Speak by

Jane Casey

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Unpicking her twistiest crime scene yet, Maeve Kerrigan is back – and she’s had a promotion.

At the end of 2015, the book I wanted to read didn’t seem to exist.

There seemed to be a lack of crime novels with ambitious young heroines as protagonists, though there were plenty of women sidekicks.

Or if there was a female lead, she appeared in a domestic noir. One of those aspiring Gone Girl novels full of unlikely plot twists and unlikeable characters (and let’s be honest, whilst these are great there’s only so many you can read before you become thoroughly underwhelmed by the world).

So I went on a quest. And I found Val McDermid, Tess Gerritsen, and Jane Casey.

And whilst I adored Carol Jordan, and thought Rizzoli and Isles were brilliant – it was Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan who slipped into my top five literary heroines.

No wonder then that I was thrilled when HarperCollins invited me to join the blog tour for Let The Dead Speak, the seventh instalment in the Maeve Kerrigan series. On Publication Day no less!

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“I didn’t look like a murder detective, I’d been told. Too pretty, they said. Not tough enough. Too tall. Such nonsense.”

A sharp, plot-driven novel, Let The Dead Speak starts with an almost surreal crime scene.

Chloe Emery returns home early to find her mother missing. She goes upstairs, lets out the howling cat, turns the light on – only to find the house covered in blood. Everything points to murder, except for one thing: there’s no sign of a body.

This opening sequence follows such a unique pace.

It’s fast.

But it’s warped by a narrative voice, coloured by Chloe’s learning and cognitive disabilities. Her confusion, her delayed understanding of what’s happening, means the reader is hyper aware of what’s going on and you’re practically screaming at her not to go any further. The evidence. The possibility of something horrible lurking in that dark house. It’s a deeply traumatic scene. But so well rendered. You turn the page on that chapter and you’re hooked.

Enter then the newly promoted Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan. With usual dry wit and sharp eye, she’s a breath of brisk winter air in comparison. And she quickly focuses in on possible suspects: the neighbours.

Could the ultra-religious Norrises have taken issue with the divorcee next-door? Could the local teenage heartthrob (and one-time-murder-suspect) William Turner be the guilty party? Or is someone else involved?

Behind every door in this novel is a secret, a lie, a clue, a red herring. And it’s up to Maeve to unpick them (with the ‘help’ of Josh Derwent, of course).

There are several things to mention for both returning fans and newcomers to the series.

For one, you do not have to have read the previous books to follow Let The Dead Speak.

In fact, it’s the first time in five books where certain spectres haven’t crept through the pages. And it’s refreshing. After The Fire came full circle – and whilst some remaining loose ends (a certain MIA boyfriend, for example) are woven into the background of this book, they never take centre stage. The characters are as three dimensional and compelling as ever, but Casey doesn’t linger. She doesn’t colour in every part of the Kerrigan and Derwent dynamic (I hesitate to say relationship). Instead, small details reveal that information. Like a slither of jealousy revealing a fraught friendship.

Moreover, there’s an exceptionally well-constructed and well-written narrative, a procedural that’s compulsive, alive with psychological twists, and that taps into our more voyeuristic tendencies.

Saying that, the way the narrative panders to ghoulish curiosity is fast becoming a recognisable stylistic in Casey’s writing.

The cast of characters is such that as we’re introduced, we’re given access to their homes, their little lives. This book, even more so than After The Fire, uses those gritty, investigative elements of the procedural to tap into the modern dilemma of never really knowing our neighbours. After all, how can we when we barely know the people living in our own homes?

And – with true deftness – that line-up of heroes and villains comes to life through the course of the novel. They’re the driving force of the plot. Every character wants something. And they’re all recognisable from real life. Peeling back the many layers around these characters – the superficial, society-facing representations, even the lies they tell themselves – it’s a testament to Casey that she keeps everyone horrifyingly human.

There are parts that perhaps feed more to melodrama than plot.

Maeve’s slightly fatalistic tendencies in Let The Dead Speak create a few sensationalist moments – a particular car ride and a moment under a bridge spring to mind. This may in part be due to Casey’s play on stereotypes – whether it’s the fanatically religious, the revoltingly misogynistic, or simply teenage angst. However, whilst it’s interesting to see Maeve trying to grow into her new role as Detective Sergeant (and struggling with new recruit Georgia), this is also the first novel where she’s come across as ever so slightly absurd in her ambition and dedication to The Job. She has always been written as tenacious, spikey, and a little reckless, but at times this feels like an unrealistic personality change.

Fortunately, Maeve has Derwent to being her back to earth.

And those moments are fleeting and forgivable.

Plus Maeve’s narrative voice is too sharp not to succeed.

The wry comments she makes in her head and the always-amusing exchanges with Derwent not only create moments of relief in a novel where tension runs with the force of the Yangtze’s Three Gorges Dam, but ensures we keep rooting for our fictional detectives. They’re fallible, sure, but we love them for it.

The story is complex.  Strip away the thin veneer of civilisation in this book and beneath it’s exactly as McManus wrote, a “broiling, festering, stew of betrayal, blackmail, zealotry, obsession, envy, violence, repression and (real or imagined) damnation”.

Let The Dead Speak is dark. It is gritty. It’s the ultimate Russian Doll of a crime novel, with mysteries within mysteries. Casey’s writing is superb, suspenseful, real, and never shies from hard issues.

So do our investigators ever find the missing body? Does Maeve Kerrigan solve her twistiest case yet? Or might her ambitious, lone-wolf streak scupper her chances of catching the killer?

You’ll have to read Let The Dead Speak to find out.

 

Buy Let The Dead Speak on Amazon for £9.09 Hardcover, or £7.99 Paperback or Kindle.

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