You can enjoy a crime novel at any time of the year, however in the autumn and winter with the long drawn nights it seems an even more ideal time to pick one up – I am currently mulling over just which one to read next. Whilst I decide I thought I would tell you about the first in a new-to-me series, The Burning, by a new-to-me author, Jane Casey. As many long term readers of the blog will know I do like a good crime series though I am always rather trepidatious about starting a new one; partly because the ones I read are so good and partly because when you sign up to a series you know you are signing up to something long haul and even if you don’t like it you will probably want to read the next one despite yourself to see what happens next.
London is in terror of a serial killer that the media have named The Burning Man after he has beaten and burnt four women to death in secluded parks throughout the city. A fifth victim, Rebecca Haworth, has been discovered and yet there seems to be something different in the minutiae of her killing. Either The Burning Man has changed the way he is dealing with his victims ever so slightly, or there is a copy cat killer who could possibly be about to start a spate of murders or just wanted to kill and have someone else take the blame. Whatever the outcome it is up to Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan to find out more yet the more she learns about this supposed fifth victim the more and more confused she is, as Rebecca Haworth was a bit of an enigma, seemingly perfect but do still waters run deep?
He nodded, then strutted away, trying and failing to look like a taller man than he was. Anton Ventnor, prize git. I would have dreaded going in to an office he ran; I would have been delighted to get away from him if I’d been in Rebecca’s shoes. But I wasn’t Rebecca; I didn’t even really know what she was like. The highly organised business-woman. The good-time girl you’d never marry. The loyal, scatty friend. The desperate employee. I had no doubt I would get a different account of Rebecca’s character from her parents, when I spoke to them. She had been whatever people wanted her to be, right up to the moment when what they wanted her to be was dead.
I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Burning before I read it, lots of people had told me that it would be my kind of crime novel and I think that might be because Casey does a very good job of mixing the police procedural with a psychological thriller – these are not the same things as I have discovered over my reading of the genre. DC Kerrigan is a woman in a very masculine world, in fact she is one of only a few females on her team as we have the hunt for The Burning Man there is much crime scene investigation, clues and dead ends to be lead down.
At the same time we know there is more to the book than meets the eye as from early on we switch narratives from Maeve as she gets on with the procedural side of catching a killer and also Louise, Rebecca Howarth’s best friend. The story divides slightly into two strands and even takes another twist as we learn of a death in Rebecca’s Oxford past and so in a way we soon find we are following three different cases all in one book. With the two different narratives we think we are learning more than DC Kerrigan, but are we really? This is a clever trick if you can pull it off but a very hard web to weave.
Overall Casey does this really well. I have to admit that when the book started to head off to Oxford and Rebecca and Louise’s student days I did inwardly groan as firstly, I don’t really like campus novels, and secondly I was rather grimly fascinated by The Burning Man and it does seem that for a hundred or so pages so does DC Kerrigan almost informing us of the fact there are multiple murderers out there instead of leaving us guessing until the last possible moment. A small quibble though really as when The Burning Man case reaches its denouement it really paces along and grips, yet you know there is more to come, double the detecting. I also think Casey could have quite easily cut a hundred pages. I didn’t need the switch of narrative to one of Casey’s colleagues, Rob, for example as we could have gained the information in a paragraph or two in a different way and sometimes the dual narratives meant repetitions though of course the whole point is what is missing or what is concealed by one party or not which I liked hunting for.
DC Kerrigan herself is a great lead. I liked her struggle to be one of the boys whilst having to compete so strongly to be seen and heard which I bet is the case within the police system. I also enjoyed her hunt for the killer or killers and can safely say that Casey is very good at creating serial killers who have very different motives from the one you might think, particularly in the case of The Burning Man who once unmasked I found incredibly chilling indeed.
I would also like to think, and if this is true I hope Jane Casey sees this and let me know, that this might be a kind of homage of sorts to Du Maurier’s Rebecca. They don’t have the same story line by any means but throughout the novel there is a woman, with the name Rebecca obviously, who is quite clearly alive for many of the characters despite her death, yet she is also a complete enigma. If so I am of course thrilled, if not I am clearly far too obsessed with that book.
After reading The Burning will I be returning to follow DC Kerrigan on another case? Yes. Jane Casey clearly wants to wrong foot her readers, in a nice way not in a smug clever clogs way, and if this novel is anything to go by she not only has a huge scope which she wishes to encapsulate in her tales, with various tangents and strands of investigation. She also likes to lead you into a false sense of security when you know who the killer is. I guessed who the murderer might be from quite early on, yet I was often thrown into doubt until the moment Casey wanted all to be revealed, yet even then she cleverly throws a twist or two in for good measure keeping you going after the big reveal.
Who else has read any of Jane Casey’s crime series, or indeed The Missing, the standalone novel? What did you make of them and do I have many more thrills and spills ahead of me? Which are your favourite crime novels that I should consider as I debate my next murderous fictional fix?