I have been wanting to read a ‘Jane Casey’ crime novel ever since I saw one of her book covers blown up into a giant poster at the London Book Fair in 2013. For some reason I had it in my head that the Maeve Kerrigan series was YA. I, therefore, read After the Fire (number six in the series) as a Kerrigan and Derwent newbie. And I loved it. What a fabulous detective pairing these two are.
When a fire tears through a tower block on the North London ‘Maudling Estate’ the last body the police expect to find amongst the debris is that of controversial MP, Geoff Armstrong. Two other bodies are found and various other people are unaccounted for. Kerrigan and Derwent are sent to investigate. Was it arson or an accident? And did the MP fall to his death, did he jump or was he pushed?
Having lived on a housing estate very similar to Maudling, I could imagine this tower block, the unreliable lifts, the grim corridors, the faulty CCTV, and the muggings which Casey describes so vividly. It is a perfect setting for a crime novel as the amount of people in one small space, and their socio-cultural heterogeneity, introduce multiple conflict sources and plot strands.
Kerrigan isn’t in a good ‘space’ for much of the novel. She isn’t sleeping well and is suffering other stress related symptoms. Despite this she is a determined and dedicated cop. Initially I didn’t warm to Derwent but that quickly changed as his fearlessness, his caring side, his intelligence and humour shine through his arrogant and often infuriating behaviour. Some say that attraction between detectives is a cliché – but I don’t see it that way. Perhaps the trajectory can be clichéd and control themes slightly gender stereotypical, but I didn’t find either with After the Fire. What I like about Kerrigan and Derwent is that they clearly care about each other, and watch each other’s backs. Their sparring is very funny and clever, and the characters are portrayed brilliantly by Casey, who is extremely witty herself. While Derwent is the senior officer, he and Kerrigan pass the power baton back and forth. I love the way they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses – and need each other. We see Derwent through Kerrigan’s eyes, and Kerrigan (mainly) through her own.
There are a number of mysteries within After the Fire – and a couple of sub-plots – and each one adds a layer of intrigue to the investigation, and ramps up the tension. The reader is quickly drawn into the murky lives of the residents and visitors at the tower block, some of whom are more sympathetic than others. Their situations and predicaments are topical, and these give the novel an element of social realism and subtle commentary. I was fascinated by the ‘faceless crowd’ aspect of tower block life, its anonymity, the unseeing eyes … everywhere.
I read this novel a while ago and re-read it recently for this review. Despite knowing the plot, I was still spellbound by the characters and enjoyed the twists and revelations. Casey’s writing is a treat. Her dialogue is sharp, and the character observations are astute and funny. There are a few bits of backstory which seem to continue from previous books in the series but this is inevitable, and I found it easy to pick up on these as I read. Coming into the series at number 6 makes me want to read them all! With a contemporary plot, After the Fire ticks all the boxes for me. Highly recommended.
Review copy obtained from NetGalley. With thanks to the author and publisher.
Vicky Newham © 2015