“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: LET THE DEAD SPEAK by Jane Casey

Jane Casey’s seventh novel to feature London-based police detective Maeve Kerrigan, Let the Dead Speak (HarperCollins) finds Maeve newly promoted to detective sergeant, although her latest case proves a baptism of fire in the new role. When Chloe Emery, an unusually naïve 18-year-old, returns home from a weekend away to discover a bloodbath in the family home, all the signs point to the frenzied murder of Chloe’s mother, Kate – all, that is, but the fact that there is no corpse.
  It’s a variation of sorts on the classic locked-room mystery, a police procedural into which Casey – previously a winner of the Irish Crime Novel of the Year – blends religious fanaticism and patriarchal sexism. As Maeve and her colleagues interview Kate Emery’s neighbours, among them Gareth Selhurst, a preacher in the Church of the Modern Apostles, she uncovers horrors that lurk behind the most respectable of middle-class suburban facades. ‘Yes, I do,’ states Maeve without hesitation when Selhurst asks if she believes in evil, as Casey unapologetically etches the classic battle-lines of crime fiction into her plot.
  That unequivocal reply, as she faces down the ranting, patriarchal Selhurst, confirms what the reader will likely know: promotion is good for a woman. Maeve Kerrigan is here noticeably more confident than the reticent character plagued by self-doubt we encountered in earlier novels, a woman who was, in public, as hardboiled and pithy as any of her colleagues (chief among them her irascible partner Josh Derwent), but who revealed her insecurities by way of asides to the reader. Her new position may make the private Maeve feel a little giddy (‘One step up the ladder and the view was giving me vertigo.’), but her private and public selves are much more in synch, perhaps because Maeve, finally, has allowed herself to believe that she has earned, and deserves, her new responsibilities.
  Not that Maeve is likely to get carried away with Pollyanna-ish ideals about good inevitably triumphing over evil. Maeve’s unhesitating acknowledgement that evil exists isn’t rooted in any theological argument, but in the bitter experience of policing London’s streets, where even in the plusher suburbs a woman such as Kate Emery isn’t safe from the savage (male) predators who hide in plain sight among her apparently law-abiding neighbours. When Derwent tells her that she wants to make everything right, that she wants to believe in happy endings, Maeve retorts that there’s no such thing, that ‘There’s just life.’
  It’s an answer that might be construed as cynical or pragmatic, particularly in the context of a genre that generally delivers the ideal of justice as a substitute for a happy ever after. It’s a theme Casey develops as Maeve Kerrigan’s investigation develops, and the focus moves from the discovery of Kate Emery’s killer to the protecting of her orphaned daughter, Chloe. The 18-year-old Chloe – technically an adult, but mentally and emotionally much younger – has become prey for the neighbourhood’s predators, because, as Maeve tells Derwent, “no one ever taught Chloe the rules […] That your body is public property, if you’re young and female. That men will take advantage of you, if they can.” The Maeve Kerrigan novels have always had a feminist sub-text; here, in tandem with Maeve’s promotion, that sub-text is brought to the fore, as Maeve uses her new powers to go to war on Chloe’s behalf.
  The result is a complex tale that delivers a superior police procedural. Maeve Kerrigan remains one of the most likeably self-deprecating detectives on contemporary crime fiction’s beat, and Let the Dead Speak, which fairly crackles with the sublimated sexual tension between Maeve and Josh, is the most polished of the Maeve Kerrigan series to date. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.