Meet Maeve Kerrigan, my new favourite detective
Crime round-up: ‘Let the Dead Speak’, ‘Every Man a Menace’, ‘Hoffer’, ‘Summary Justice’ and ‘What Remains of Us’
Jane Casey: the real joy of her Maeve Kerrigan books resides in their subtle portrayal of the detective. Photograph: Annie Armitage
The London-Irish detective Maeve Kerrigan has been elevated from detective constable to detective sergeant, but it hasn’t made her life any simpler: she’s the lead on a murder case with a house soaked in blood but no body; she’s babysitting a blond detective constable who is both disrespectful and incompetent; Josh Derwent, the macho-throwback detective inspector, keeps crowding her space as if anxious that she’s going to fail; and her chief suspects are linked to a religious cult governed by a seemingly impenetrable code of silence. “It was worse now that I was a sergeant. One step up the ladder and the view was giving me vertigo.”
Let the Dead Speak (HarperCollins, £12.99) is the seventh in Jane Casey’s addictive series, and while the characters are as nuanced, the emotional territory as transgressive and the plot as elegantly turned as ever – the final twist is a technical masterstroke – the real joy resides in the subtle portrayal of the main detective. A persuasive blend of ambition and insecurity, Kerrigan is highly capable but second-guesses almost every choice she makes; she is a woman in a man’s world, and an extremely effective one, but Casey leaves us in no doubt how much more complicated it is for her than for her male colleagues. Witty, wry and with a great big heart, DS Maeve Kerrigan has to be my favourite contemporary detective.
Every Man a Menace (Grove Press, £12.99) stretches from Bangkok and Burma to Miami and San Francisco on the trail of a huge shipment of molly, or the drug MDMA, and the fates of the many actors who guide its path: Raymond Gaspar, straight out of jail and sent by his prison-bound boss to check on an increasingly erratic distribution agent; paranoid Semion Gurevich, living the club-life dream in the money-laundering paradise of Miami; Vanya Rodriguez, also known as Candy-Hall Garcia and many other things besides, a woman who could talk a sober man into doing just about anything; and Gloria Ocampo, a ruthless, pantsuit-wearing grandmother with a deadly trade and a feminist philosophy: “Women need to help each other. Men are dangerous. They ruin everything.”
With debts to vintage Elmore Leonard and Donald E Westlake, and a hat tip to the George Pelecanos of Shoedog, Patrick Hoffman’s intricate, hallucinatory second novel is a thrill ride of noir pleasures.
Hoffer (John Murray, £16.99), subtitled An Amoral Thriller, is Tim Glencross’s second novel, and it is a genuine oddity. Unfolding in a delirious Ferrero Rocher London of ambassadors’ receptions, private views and an after-opera “Noma-at-Claridge’s thing”, and replete with imperious Antonias and Camillas, the story centres around the mysterious William Hoffer’s attempts to extricate himself from unwise former alliances with Mexican criminals and Russian oligarchs.
Hoffer, born in Ohio but repurposed as a raffish, art-fancying scrounger, is by Graham Greene out of Patricia Highsmith, with perhaps a rub of Charles Willeford’s The Burnt Orange Heresy. When the plot finally kicks in the novel packs a considerable punch, but it is a long wait, and in the run-up, for all his orotund phrasing and fastidious snobbery, Hoffer is never quite awful enough to be amusing. Still, its atmosphere lingers.
John Fairfax is the pen-name of William Broderick, a former Augustine friar whose novel A Whispered Name won the 2009 CWA Gold Dagger. Summary Justice (Little, Brown, £16.99) is the first entry in a new series featuring William Benson, a criminal barrister whose distinguishing feature is that he has a conviction for murder. (He claims privately that he admitted his guilt in prison simply so that he could be admitted to the Bar.) The family of the man he pleaded guilty to murdering are on his trail, the government is trying to shut him down and no solicitor will instruct him, such is the hostility of the legal profession. Then Tess de Vere, who was a law student at Benson’s trial and believed in his innocence, joins his defence team in the murder trial of a desperate woman.
The trial throws up uncanny similarities with Benson’s own, and Tess is soon impelled to embark on a separate investigation of his past. Benson is a compelling character, and Fairfax walks a nicely ambiguous line with regard to his motives and morals. The court scenes are irresistible, with as many twists and turns as you could want – and a few more just for luck.
Tess has been given a rather cheesy Irish background, and the scenes with her Feisty Best Friend™ Sally have a rather got-up, Richard Curtis feel; this is a high-gloss Londonland in which a young solicitor can afford to live in a two-bedroom flat in Knightsbridge. But it is an engrossing read for all that, and I look forward to seeing Benson and de Vere again.
Thirty years ago Kelly Lund was jailed for the murder of the Hollywood movie director John McFadden. Now she’s out and married to the son of McFadden’s close friend Sterling Marshall, a legendary actor. When Marshall is found murdered Kelly is the immediate prime suspect. But the secrets of the case are buried in the past: in the apparent suicide of Kelly’s twin sister, Cat, and the twisted familial and sexual connections between the Lunds, the Marshalls and the McFaddens.
What Remains of Us (Arrow, £7.99), by AL Gaylin, is at once a superbly constructed thriller and an intoxicating dose of southern California Gothic, with the siren glamour of celluloid dreams, the sins of the parents visiting down the generations, and the prurience and complicity of the fawning, frenzied press essential ingredients in the mix.
In a recent episode of her unmissable podcast, You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth referred to old Hollywood’s scandalous reputation as “a sin pit and a death trap”. Gaylin prints the legend with terrific energy, wicked irony and the tenderest of care for her all-too-human characters.
Declan Hughes is a novelist and playwright; he is Arts Council writer-in-residence at University College Dublin