Two Books by Jane Casey Reviewed by Frank O’Shea
CRUEL ACTS. By Jane Casey. HarperCollins. 2019. 360 pp. $29.99
THE CUTTING PLACE. By Jane Casey. HarperCollins. 2020. 388 pp $29.99
Jane Casey was born and grew up in Castleknock, on the fringe of Dublin. She now lives in London and is married to a criminal lawyer, and it is easy to imagine that the way she depicts the work of police and the legal system is close to how it would be described by an insider. These two books are numbers eight and nine in her series featuring DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent of the murder squad. Each is set in London and surrounding areas and Kerrigan is the first-person narrator in each.
Cruel Acts won the An Post Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year in 2019, and it is easy to understand why it was successful. Although it starts slowly, there is a kind of galloping earnestness that keeps the reader on task, once the main characters and their inter-relationships are clarified. It will probably be particularly successful among readers who are familiar with the cast of detective characters she has introduced in her earlier books.
Leo Strong is about to be released from prison where he has spent time after being sentenced as a serial killer. A member of the jury that found him guilty wrote a book explaining how his fellow-jurors were prejudiced by reading about earlier crimes which Strong had committed. A re-trial is ordered and the job of finding evidence against him falls to Kerrigan and her immediate boss Josh Derwent.
Initially they have to go back over the first two murders for which Strong was convicted, but they progress to other missing persons from about the same time for which he may have been responsible. In the end, there are some seven dead bodies recovered, all of young women, some of whose lives were so much on the fringes of society that they were not originally missed.
The final resolution of the crimes is not entirely satisfactory, appearing to depend a certain amount on coincidence and on relationships between characters that are likely to raise a snort of disbelief from many readers.
The Cutting Place
Because Casey’s squad of detectives deal with murders, she is able to present her situations as gruesome and the killers as deserving of everything that comes to them. In this case, the perpetrators are members of an exclusive London club that manages its affairs by extracting large donations from members or their families. The members include many men in their foolish twenties, an age when they can be kept in line by recording them being involved in activities that would damage their future careers.
These activities involve drugs, drunkenness and abuse of young women. When one of these events results in the death of a girl and a man, the club has to take action to get rid of bodies and make sure that all evidence is removed. Kerrigan and her co-workers follow up these deaths carefully and bring the perpetrators to justice. The story is not helped, however, when we discover that the first murder, the one that beings the private club to the attention of the murder squad in the first place, has very little to do with the club.
A major element of both stories is the relationship between Kerrigan and Derwent. Where most books would show them as cooperative and with an undertone of possible romance, the author presents each of them as prickly and opinionated. Their results are due to good police work laced with unusual intuition, though the rule seems to be that neither is allowed to praise or compliment the other.
The Cutting Place takes the relationship between the two detectives a step further and introduces a second mini-story involving Kerrigan and a solicitor whom we met in the earlier story and with whom she is romantically involved. The affair is an unsatisfactory one, partly because he is violent, with the result that she has to be rescued by Derwent. Presumably this aspect will progress further in upcoming stories in the series.