Finally, a detective who'll never be one of the boys
INTERVIEW:The crime writer Jane Casey wanted to create a character with a real background, not a load of quirks and tics, she tells ARMINTA WALLACE
LONG SUMMER evenings, whether sunny or sodden, are a great time to make the acquaintance of a crime series. But the idea of getting up close and personal with a new investigator, maverick cop or wacky detective can induce groans. All those badly dressed middle-aged men; all those dodgy CD collections.
That’s where DC Maeve Kerrigan comes in. Young, Irish and refreshingly normal, she doesn’t barge into your life brandishing a catastrophic personal history and a tatty ID so much as settle down at your kitchen table and get chatting like somebody you’ve known for years.
Which, says Kerrigan’s creator, Jane Casey, is exactly how she planned it. “I didn’t want to have that awful thing of ‘this detective loves country and western music and tapestry’, you know? I wanted a character who has a particular background, not a load of quirks and tics.”
Being young and Irish and having lived and worked in England for more than a decade, Casey is well placed to exploit the easy familiarity – but also the many tiny cultural tensions – of her character’s situation.
Kerrigan’s Irish parents are keen for their daughter to be a success, but they don’t understand why she takes her work as an English police officer so seriously – why, indeed, she’s an English police officer at all. Kerrigan, for her part, often has to grit her teeth when her colleagues make assumptions or, worse, jokes about Irishness.
Casey was happy to plunge her young heroine into this tricky, tense and highly competitive working environment, the sort of environment, she says, where a fictional character performs best. “The world of the Metropolitan Police is a very hierarchical and sexist world,” she says. “I know that it’s very hard on women – on anybody who is different in any way, in fact. You’re really supposed to conform and be one of the boys.”
Kerrigan is never going to be one of the boys. But she’s every inch their equal. In Casey’s new novel The Last Girl, as in her previous outing The Reckoning, Kerrigan is working with Det Insp Josh Derwent. He is as tough and outspoken a nut as ever stalked a crime scene, prone to outbursts of language, misogyny and whatever you’re having yourself. Kerrigan is beginning to earn his trust and, even, his admiration. They’re beginning, in short, to move from constant sparring to a genuine working partnership.
Over the course of three novels Kerrigan has changed both as a character and as a detective. “I know writers always harp on about this,” says Casey with an apologetic smile, “but to a certain extent characters do change as you write them, and take on their own life – if you’ve got it right. Do their own thing a little bit. One of the things that she’s developing is the confidence to say, ‘This is what I think,’ and not just stand there thinking, I don’t agree with this, but I can’t say anything because you’re a superintendent and I’m only a lowly DC.’