Silent Kill (Maeve Kerrigan 8.5) by Jane Casey

Georgia on my mind…

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When Detective Constable Georgia Shaw is sent to a murder scene, she’s shocked to discover the victim is a teenage schoolgirl. Minnie Charleston had been on the bus for a while, earbuds in and seemingly asleep, while a succession of other passengers took the empty seat beside her. But when one passenger finally noticed blood, it became clear that at some point on the journey she had been stabbed. Georgia will be part of the investigation team, under her sergeant, Maeve Kerrigan, and Inspector Josh Derwent, as they try to discover which of the passengers had a reason to kill Minnie…

This novella length story is very definitely one for existing fans, rather than an entry point for newcomers to the series. Georgia has appeared in the last couple of books, as a fast-track entrant whom Maeve finds irritating and unreliable – not the kind of person you want to depend on when lives are on the line. This time we hear the story from Georgia’s point of view, discovering more about her life and getting a better understanding of why she behaves as she does. Since the books are usually told in the first person from Maeve’s perspective, this is also the first time we get another person’s impression of her, and her increasingly complicated relationship with Josh.

For a novella it’s quite long, and there’s a surprisingly strong plot, with several suspects and a full investigation, all of which I found to be just as good as the plots of the full-length novels. Minnie, it turns out, was an unpleasant girl – a bully and a manipulator. However, as Georgia and Maeve dig deeper into her family circumstances, they begin to see that she may not have been wholly to blame. Left largely to her own devices by uncaring parents, she has got involved with a far-right group, and the detectives have to discover if that has anything to do with the murder. Or there was a teacher she drove to resign from her posh school, or the girl she bullied so badly the girl had to change schools. The solution has a lot of depth considering the brevity and, as always with Casey, the reader has a reasonably fair chance of working it out, although of course I failed!

Jane Casey

I was glad to get to know Georgia better. In fact, I’ve always felt that Maeve treats her unfairly and hasn’t shown the support and guidance a boss should to a younger, inexperienced subordinate. Georgia is perhaps more accepting of this – she clearly admires Maeve, though she resents her too for the effortless way Maeve seems to deal with things that make Georgia anxious. Georgia also has a major crush on Josh, making her rather jealous of his clear preference for Maeve. (What is it with all these female detectives, not to mention the readers? Am I the only one immune to this sexist bully’s charms??) A cold word from Maeve or Josh stings this sensitive girl more than they seem to know, but they should know – it’s their job to know. I grew to like Georgia considerably more, but seeing Josh and Maeve through her eyes made me like them a little less. I expect bullying and insensitivity from Josh, but I can see why Georgia finds Maeve’s behaviour hurtful too. If Maeve realised that the smallest compliment from her is treasured by this insecure young woman, maybe she’d encourage her more often, rather than making her feel like a fool. Time for Maeve’s mother to give her a talking-to in one of their famous phone conversations, I feel!

As usual, Casey has me arguing about the behaviour of her characters, which is why I love these books. Maeve and Josh feel entirely real to me, and so they entertain me sometimes and annoy me sometimes just as real people do. I’m glad to be able to add Georgia to the list of characters I now care about – I’m sure she’ll still annoy me too, often, but I’ll feel more ready to make excuses for her next time she does. I also think it’s good that Casey is bringing forward new recurring characters – something Reginald Hill did to great effect – since it helps to stop the staleness that sometimes creeps into long-running series. In short, this novella is a bonus that fans won’t want to miss!

Book 17 of 20

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The Cutting Place (Maeve Kerrigan 9) by Jane Casey

Boys will be boys…

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When a mudlarker finds bits of a body washed up on the banks of the Thames, Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan finds herself with a particularly tricky murder on her hands. The lack of a complete corpse makes identification difficult, and there’s no indication of where the crime may have been committed. However, with the help of her team and a couple of lucky breaks, Maeve is soon on the trail of a secretive all-male club, full of the rich and privileged who use their wealth and power to behave outrageously and get away with it.

This is the ninth in the Maeve Kerrigan series, one of the very few series I have followed all the way through and still look forward eagerly to each instalment. Partly this is because Maeve is such an attractive character – the books are written in the first person from her perspective (past tense) and, while she frequently gets herself entangled in dangerous situations, she is resilient and so remains refreshingly normal with her sense of sometimes wicked humour intact. Partly, too, it’s because of Casey’s skill in plotting. The books tend to concentrate on some aspect of contemporary life – in this one, the issue of male privilege and how it can lead to the sexual abuse of women – but Casey manages to avoid becoming overly polemical or to be too obviously making “points”. And partly, it’s because Maeve is one of the very few fictional female police officers who isn’t constantly having to battle sexual discrimination in the workplace. Maeve and her colleagues, male and female alike, work as a competent team, with the usual banter that takes place in any mixed gender setting but with mutual respect all round. Just like I imagine most real police teams in the 21st century probably behave, in fact. First and foremost, although the plots are by no means cosy, the interplay between the recurring characters keeps the books entertaining, a thing that much of contemporary crime seems to have forgotten how to be.

Maeve now has a new boyfriend, Seth, while Josh Derwent is still with his girlfriend, Melissa, and has settled into the role of father to her young son. But the ongoing will-they/won’t-they tension between Maeve and Josh continues, although Maeve would deny its existence. I have to admit that I am not Josh’s biggest fan – or rather, I love him as a character but don’t particularly admire him as a man. Having started out as a male chauvinist pig of the first order, he has gradually softened as the series has progressed and I know that the vast majority of long-term fans seem to hope that one day Maeve and he will ride off happily into the sunset together. I’m afraid I can’t help being concerned about his controlling and often physically domineering behaviour towards Maeve, which in this book is ironic since part of the plotline concerns a toxic controlling relationship. Personally if I had a work colleague or even a friend who felt that he had the right to question my boyfriend’s exes to see whether the boyfriend was suitable for me, I would not be a happy pixie, but Maeve seems to find Josh’s extreme over-protectiveness and gross interference in her life quite manly and attractive, and so do her fans, so I shall stand in the corner and try not to sulk. Despite my reservations, I do enjoy their banter and the good thing about fictional controlling men, as opposed to real ones, is that they can change over time.

I was delighted that Maeve’s mother puts in an appearance in this one, partly because their relationship is so well done and believable, and partly because it’s such a refreshing departure for a detective to actually have a normal, supportive family at her back.

Jane Casey

I don’t want to say much about the plot for fear of spoilers, but it’s done with Casey’s usual skill, treading close to the credibility line at points but always managing to stay just on the right side of it. Mostly what I love about these books, though, is their sheer readability – the easy flow that looks effortless although I’m quite sure it isn’t, the banter between Maeve and Josh and the wider team, the pacing that relies on a sure and steady reveal of information as the book progresses rather than the ubiquitous and unlikely twists of contemporary crime fiction, and the excellent quality of the writing itself. As always, I found this one pure pleasure to read and now begins the long wait for the next one. Nose to the grindstone, please, Ms Casey! Highly recommended, but if you’re a newcomer, do read the series in order – the character development is a major part of the enjoyment. And then you can come back and tell me which side of the great Josh debate you’re on…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins via NetGalley.

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Cruel Acts (Maeve Kerrigan 8) by Jane Casey

A thriller, a chiller and a serial killer…

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Leo Stone was convicted of killing two women and sentenced to life imprisonment. But now one of the jurors has revealed that the jury broke the rules and as a result his conviction is certain to be overturned when it comes before the Appeals Court. There will be a retrial, but Superintendent Godley wants to make certain that he’s convicted again, so Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan and Detective Inspector Josh Derwent are assigned to reinvestigate the case and to find more evidence if they can. Maeve quickly discovers in the files that there was a third woman who may have been a victim of Stone’s too, but he was never charged with her murder for lack of evidence. Maeve’s sense of empathy for this victim makes her determined to find out the truth of what happened to her too. In the midst of the investigation, after Stone has been released, another woman goes missing…

Well, it’s been a long wait for this latest instalment in Jane Casey’s excellent Maeve Kerrigan series, but this is well worth waiting for. As always, it’s told in the first person (past tense) by Maeve, so that we get her often humorous take on the people around her, especially Derwent. Their relationship has settled into a rather more equal friendship now that Maeve is more experienced, but that doesn’t stop Derwent from lecturing her about her personal life, being over-protective, embarrassing her at every opportunity and generally winding her up. For all that, she knows there’s no-one she’d rather have beside her when things get dangerous.

The other regulars are back too. Una Burt, Maeve’s boss, still doesn’t much like her and the feeling is mutual. Liv appears a bit more in this one – another colleague and Maeve’s best friend. Godley is back, though he plays only a small role. Maeve still looks up to him, but in a more mature way than the hero-worship she felt for him in the early days. And the new girl on the team, Georgia, is back too, just as obnoxious, and just as jealous of Maeve’s success. Followers of the series are doubtless thinking, yes, but what about Maeve’s love life? Is Rob back? Or is there a new man on the scene? Or are Maeve and Josh…? You don’t really expect me to tell you though, do you? 😉

In general, I’m not wild about serial killer stories and helpless females being tortured and killed, but I was right to trust Casey to handle it with her usual sensitivity and good taste. Although women are killed, the reader is not put in the room with them as it’s happening – there’s nothing prurient or gratuitous in the writing; no lengthy descriptions of torture scenes designed to titillate. That doesn’t stop it from being heart-in-mouth thrilling and chilling at points, though. The prologue is wonderfully scary and the thriller ending is tense and dramatic, with several scenes dotted throughout that also had my anxiety levels rocketing.

When it turns out that Leo Stone has an alibi for the time of the latest disappearance, Maeve and Derwent have to consider whether he was innocent of the earlier murders or if there’s a copycat out there. I thoroughly enjoyed the plotting in this one. I didn’t work it out – I rarely do – but all the clues are there. I always think that Casey plots like a Golden Age author, giving the reader a fair chance to do a bit of armchair detecting, although in every other respect her stories and characters are entirely modern.

Jane Casey

I also love that Maeve tries hard to stay within the rules. While her personal life might be a bit complicated, she’s no angst-ridden maverick. The same goes for her colleagues, in fact – they’re probably the most realistic police team I can think of, and while there are petty jealousies and squabbles, they behave overall like the kind of professional force I’d like to think we actually have. The women are not always struggling to be taken seriously by sexist bosses, which delights me since I think it’s such an out-dated image in most of our public services now, and completely overused in crime fiction. Casey simply has men and women working together as a team as if… gasp… it’s normal! But she still allows room for a bit of banter and the occasional flirtation, and she doesn’t feel the need to make the women superheroes or the men weaklings.

While this could easily be read as a standalone, I do recommend reading this series in order to get the full nuances of all the various relationships within the team, and especially to understand Maeve and Josh’s complicated friendship. For existing fans, you’re in for a treat with this one – isn’t it great to have Maeve back? Highly recommended, and I sincerely hope Ms Casey is hard at work on the next one…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

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Let the Dead Speak (Maeve Kerrigan 7) by Jane Casey

Maeve’s back!

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When Chloe Emery returns home early from a visit to her dad’s new family, she is horrified to find her house covered in blood and her mother missing. Maeve Kerrigan has been promoted to Detective Sergeant, and is called to the scene by Una Burt, who’s still acting head of the team. The sheer volume of blood suggests there’s no hope the victim could have survived, so they’re treating it as a murder case, with the first item on the agenda being to find the body.

I was quite unhappy with the way the previous book ended, with Maeve and Josh turning into typically unbelievable vigilante-style mavericks, so I’m delighted to say that in this one Maeve’s back on track. There are lots of reasons this series stands out from the herd, and one of the major ones is Maeve’s refreshing normality. Of course she’s affected by her experiences, but she’s basically a good cop who works well within a team and tries to stick within the rules as much as possible. And for my money, the books are better when she does.

Now that she’s a sergeant, Maeve has supervisory responsibilities and in this one is looking after the newest team member, Gloria, a graduate entrant. Maeve’s not finding it easy – Gloria’s pretty annoying, ready to feel herself slighted for the smallest reason. But she also seems ready to develop a bit of hero-worship for Josh and Maeve’s horrified to find herself feeling a little bit jealous. It’s professional jealousy though – Maeve is still hoping that she and Rob can get back together, and every girl’s favourite male chauvinist Josh (amazingly!) has his own little family now, having taken on the role of father to his girlfriend’s young son. (My mind still boggles at the idea of him giving the boy dating advice a few years from now!)

Plotting is another of Casey’s major strengths and this one is particularly convoluted. It soon transpires that the street is filled with people with secrets and jealousies, and Kate, Chloe’s mum, seems to have been at the centre of many of them. Chloe is staying with her friend Bethany and her parents, an ultra-religious family who belong to a church that’s not quite a cult, but is tending in that direction. Chloe herself is, perhaps, a bit slow intellectually – certainly her mother had been keen to have her diagnosed as such – but some people think she’s more intelligent than she seems. She’s also physically attractive, all of which makes her vulnerable to any unscrupulous predators she might meet.

Jane Casey

As always, the writing is excellent and there’s plenty of humour to lighten up the tone. It’s narrated by Maeve in the first person, past tense, so that we’re privy to her thoughts and her rather spiky comments about her colleagues. Her relationship with Josh is more equal now that she’s been promoted – he’s still her superior, but she’s no longer the new girl. He’s still just as protective towards her though, which she appreciates even though it annoys her sometimes. And it’s nice to see his softer side peeking through now that he has his little family to humanise him.

This one would work fine as a standalone, though as usual I’d recommend reading this series in order, starting with The Burning, to get the full benefit of the characterisation, and especially the development of Maeve’s unlikely friendship with Josh. Great to have them back in action, and here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long to see them again!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

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The Kill (Maeve Kerrigan 5) by Jane Casey

the killAnother excellent instalment…

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When an off-duty policeman is shot dead in his car it looks at first as though the motive must be something to do with his personal life. His widow seems angry rather than grief-stricken and his daughter has some unexplained bruises. But a few days later a team of officers is attacked while out on patrol and it becomes clear that someone is targeting the police in general. But no-one knows why…or do they? This is the fifth book in the Maeve Kerrigan series and continues the high standard that Jane Casey has set herself in the last couple. It might be possible to read this as a standalone, but there has been a developing story arc which comes to a head in this one, so I would strongly recommend that new readers should read the series in order (starting with The Burning).

Maeve and Josh Derwent are still working as a team and, despite their constant bickering, it’s obvious they’ve learned to respect and trust each other. Derwent is the ultimate male chauvinist pig, but he’s also loyal to the people he cares about and has a strong moral code of his own, not to mention being very funny on occasion – so, like Maeve, the dedicated reader has learned to put up with his sexist taunting, and has grown to like him despite his awfulness. Maeve’s long-term boyfriend Rob plays a small but important role in this one, but in general he’s faded rather into the background in the last couple of books as Derwent has come more to the fore.

Maeve is the same strong and stubborn officer we have grown to love, still with that wicked streak of humour that comes through in the first-person narrative when we get to hear her opinions of those around her. It’s Maeve’s normality that makes her so refreshing – she works well as a team-player, is loyal to her colleagues (sometimes too loyal, perhaps) and tries hard to stay within the rules. One touch that I’ve always enjoyed about these books is her relationship with her mother, carried out mainly over the phone. Although Maeve spends most of her time trying to avoid unwanted maternal advice, it’s still her mother that she turns to when she needs some emotional support, and these occasional little interactions help to show Maeve as a rounded character with strong family roots.

Jane Casey
Jane Casey

The storyline in this one is strong and well plotted, with different strands that overlap in the investigation. The running plotline about Superintendent Godley is brought to what looks like a possible conclusion, for which I’m not sorry since it’s the one aspect of the books that I’ve had some serious credulity issues with. There are some dark and unsettling moments in the story and Casey writes these very well – she’s great at getting the balance right between the grittiness of the plot and the humour that is such a trademark feature of Maeve’s relationship with Derwent. And there are enough twists along the way to keep the reader guessing till near the end. Altogether, another excellent instalment that ensures this series remains one of my strong favourites. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the Amazon Vine UK.

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The Stranger You Know (Maeve Kerrigan 4) by Jane Casey

the stranger you knowGreat addition to a hugely enjoyable series…

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One murder might be a one-off, two might be a coincidence, but a third means there’s a serial killer at work. Maeve Kerrigan is assigned to the investigating team and is shocked to discover that the chief suspect is Josh Derwent, her colleague and boss. OK, he’s an unreconstructed male chauvinist pig, he’s a bully and a womaniser but…a murderer? Maeve can’t believe it. At least, she almost can’t believe it – but this murderer is plausible, he gains the trust of his victims and his psychological profile does sound an awful lot like Derwent…and it seems this isn’t the first time he’s been a murder suspect…

When I try to pin down why I love the Maeve Kerrigan books so much, it comes down to two things – the characterisation and the humour. Yes, the plotting is good, the stories are complex enough to keep the reader guessing and the running story arcs add an extra layer of interest. But what lifts these books way, way above average is Casey’s skill at creating completely believable characters and giving them dialogue that is both witty and natural.

“‘…you should still be in hospital.’
‘Who told you that?’
‘It’s obvious,’ I said. ‘You look dreadful.’
‘Said the woman with bright red eyes and crazy hair. Fuck me, it’s like getting a lecture from Coco the Clown.’”

Derwent has been playing a bigger role in each book and is central to this one. Despite his flaws (of which there are many) he is great fun – he takes great pleasure in winding Maeve up but she’s getting better at giving as good as she gets. And beneath his macho act, there’s courage, loyalty and integrity and, like Maeve, the more we get to know him, the more we can’t help feeling a sneaking liking for him. They’ve become a true crime fiction double-act – maybe not Holmes and Watson, exactly, but perhaps Dalziel and Pascoe, or Rebus and Siobhan. But in this pairing the junior officer, Maeve, is very much the central character. Confident, ambitious and assertive on the outside, we get to see the mass of insecurities inside her head and to enjoy her often wickedly funny observations of her colleagues.

“Being lectured on politeness by Una Burt was like taking make-up advice from Barbara Cartland.”

Jane Casey
Jane Casey

It’s Maeve’s normality that I love most – her lovely boyfriend Rob isn’t in this one much, but he’s survived through three books now and their relationship is stronger than ever. She has a family whom she loves and who love her; we know her mother best through the frequent exasperated answerphone messages she leaves. And Maeve isn’t superwoman – she’s smart, good at her job and brave when she needs to be, but she knows her limitations and is strong enough to ask for help when she needs it. Oh, and she’s very likeable and very, very funny.

When a book is as eagerly anticipated as this one, it can be hard for it to live up to expectations but this one certainly does – a very fine addition to a hugely enjoyable series. This could easily be read as a standalone, but to fully understand the characters and running story arcs, it would be best to read them in order, starting with The Burning. And if you haven’t got to know Maeve and her colleagues yet, it really is time you did! Highly recommended.

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