Minotaur Books, 336 pages, $26.99 (c2014 and U.S. ed., 2015)
“The Burning,” the first in the series, and while I wasn’t jumping up and down about it, I liked it well enough to try again. I missed the next three in the series — which some might say gives me a skewed look at the the fifth — but it wasn’t too hard to get the gist of what I had missed. Once again, I think Jane Casey has presented another interesting story and my quibbles might just be cranky mutterings.
First, the quibbles.
This is a gothic novel dressed up as a police procedural. Maeve’s work partner, DI Josh Derwent, is Rochester and Maeve is Jane, the pure and innocent maiden. Having said that, Maeve has a boyfriend, another cop, and she is only vaguely hapless. (So much for that analogy.) Frankly, if Derwent were my Rochester, I would leave immediately with no forwarding address. Derwent is obnoxious, arrogant, secretive, and demeaning towards Maeve. He tells her constantly that he has her best interests at heart and runs interference for her. Maeve’s loyalty and gratitude to him are the unlikely givens which must be accepted in order to continue. Talk about Stockholm Syndrome.
Maeve herself is no shining star. She blushes and cries at the drop of a hat. Maybe this should come across as vulnerable and appealing, but it doesn’t. (Maybe I should have read the intervening two novels, because I can’t see how she got as far as she did in her career without more mental toughness.) She talks about loving (in a loyal detective/daughterly sort of way) her boss, Charles Godley, and how Derwent loves him too, and she will shamelessly say this out loud to Godley and Derwent. Get a grip, girl!
I will get a grip as well.
Maeve and Derwent work in London. When a cop, Terence Hammond, is found dead in his car, shot by a sniper, they are part of the team that catches this case. Upon closer inspection, Hammond turns out to be a loser. He has a chilly wife, a disabled son (whose disability he caused), and a rebellious daughter. Plus, Hammond wasn’t alone in the car when he was shot. Maeve’s keen eye (not being sarcastic here; Maeve does spot-on detecting throughout) determines there was a woman, shall we say, keeping him company.
When another cop is murdered, someone with no link to Hammond, the entire force goes on high alert. But it’s not enough to prevent even more killings. Is this tied to the killing of an unarmed teen by a cop? (What a timely topic for us in the U.S.!) The story moves along very well, and I have only respect for how Maeve alone unravels a big piece of the plot. In fact, there are many scenes that are well done, including a moving scene with the mother of the dead teen.
Casey isn’t oblivious to her main character’s flaws. A couple of times she points to Maeve’s innocence as an impediment. Maeve’s uncanny advancement in the force — seemingly bypassing lower stages of grunt work — is noted by DCI Una Burt, a jealous superior:
'Your trouble, Maeve, is that you think you’re unique. You’re just a detective. Rank and file. People keep telling you you’re something remarkable and senior officers — male senior officers — seem to want to work with you. I wonder why that might be.'
Casey seems to say that yes, Maeve is attractive — for all the good and bad that does her — and emotionally labile, but she’s also smart and that is what got her to where she is. Just hand Maeve a tissue and let’s get on with it.