A cop who can still be shocked

 

CRIME FICTION: KEVIN SWEENEYreviews The ReckoningBy Jane Casey Ebury Press, 483pp. £6.99

CRIME FICTION is all the rage these days, with critics and fans at pains to argue that the avalanche of hard, violent, cyncial cop thrillers functions as an unflinching reflection of our sick society: This Is Life. But, really, you wouldn’t want to read too much of this stuff, if only because a diet of schlock writing combined with daft, coincidence-laden plotting will leave you too bloated to appreciate the odd nugget of real quality.

Which is to explain why I picked up The Reckoningwith some scepticism. There’s the been-there, read-that title. There’s the mildly exploitative cover (bloody nails imbedded in a floor, the shrieking line “The police call it murder. He calls it justice”). And there’s an author I’d never heard of – not to mention a breathless critical blurb from another author I’d never heard of, leading me to suspect the most blatant kind of literary log-rolling.

Wrong pretty much on all counts. The Reckoning, the third novel in a series about a rookie female Irish homicide detective in London, stands out from the pack as both a twisty, well-crafted mystery and as a humanistic portrait of an ambitious professional with a strong moral centre.

Jane Casey, its UK-based author, grew up in Castleknock, Dublin, studied English at Oxford and earned a postgrad degree in Anglo-Irish literature at TCD. The Missing, her first novel, its follow-up The Burningand now The Reckoninghave all been published within the past year and half, which suggests either Casey is remarkably prolific or that she had a drawer full of half-completed manuscripts waiting to be discovered. (According to Ebury Press, The Missingwas found on the slush pile of her agent.)

The series could almost be subtitled “Jane Tennison: The Early Years”. Casey’s non-jaded heroine, DC Maeve Kerrigan, is smart but not infallible, compassionate but not maudlin, a feminist without illusions that she can change the chauvinism and misogyny that’s rife within the Metropolitan Police murder squad.

Kerrigan is partnered with a more experienced superior officer, detective inspector Josh Derwant, to assist in a particularly horrible case: the torture-murders of two convicted paedophiles, followed a day later by a third killing. Kerrigan’s fair-minded boss believes she can bring a “sensitive” perspective to what quickly shapes up to be a nightmare investigation. But the endlessly aggressive Derwant advises her to “stand back, look pretty, and let me do all the work. This should be an easy gig for you. Just stay out of my way so you can watch and learn”.

Naturally Kerrigan does no such thing. While Derwant assumes the killer is some deranged, sadistic vigilante, Kerrigan susses out a method to the murderer’s apparent madness. I hesitate to give away too much more, because the enjoyably complex plot changes gears with tooled precision, from a manhunt for the paedophile murderer to the search for a missing teenager (the daughter of a notorious ex-pat gangster). There’s a rat fink on the force, internet predators on the loose, and a beautiful lesbian detective with her own problems.

The Reckoningdoesn’t entirely escape clichés. It must be said that when we’re not on the case, Kerrigan’s messy personal life, which includes a volatile love affair with a colleague, can be a little ho-hum. I’ve personally grown a bit tired of first-person narratives, though it largely works here – except for two chapters, when Casey, for no apparent good reason, switches the narrator’s voice to that of another character.

Still, DC Kerrigan’s perspective is a compelling one, and, in a genre overloaded with all-knowing, all-seeing serial killers, it’s frankly a relief that the brute goings-on are described through eyes that are toughened but, unlike Jane Tennison’s, haven’t yet seen it all. Eyes that still have the capacity to be shocked.


Kevin Sweeney is an Irish Timesjournalist