THE BURNING by Jane Casey was published a year or so ago in Great Britain and is just now reaching the United States. It is the first in a series featuring a London police detective-constable named Maeve Kerrigan. Possessed of an edgy and somewhat prickly charm, a canny intelligence, and, yes, a well-turned ankle, Kerrigan is a bit of an anomaly on the police squad. She occasionally has to fight off the accusation that she was promoted for her looks rather than her ability, but has little trouble doing so, having developed a rather thick skin, at least to outward appearances.
"...one cannot help but be thoroughly intrigued and enchanted by Kerrigan, who is a wonderful traveling companion through the geographical and social environs of present-day London."
Kerrigan is accompanied by an interesting supporting cast consisting of fellow Detective-Constable Rob Langton, a likable police partner, and, as demonstrated before the end of THE BURNING, a lifesaver; and Police Superintendent Charles Godley, who…well, you have to read the book to correctly capture his charm, which is quiet but immense. There are others, good and bad, but the prominent figure here is Kerrigan, who investigates her introductory case with a dogged and canny determination.
THE BURNING ostensibly begins with a murder investigation concerning a serial killer who targets young women in the late night and early morning hours, brutally murdering them and setting their corpses on fire. He has claimed four victims when the body of Rebecca Haworth is found. It appears at first that Haworth is the perpetrator’s fifth victim. Kerrigan, however, is struck not so much by the similarities of Haworth’s murder to those of the other victims as to the subtle differences, which even she admits may not be important. But once she is given permission to investigate Haworth’s murder as a separate and unrelated incident, she begins a tenacious inquiry that leads her deeply into the life of a woman she never knew.
The first-person narrative alternates between Kerrigan and Louise North, an up-and-coming associate of a premier London law firm who considers herself to have been Haworth’s best friend. The deeper Kerrigan digs into Haworth’s life, the more she discovers that Haworth was different, and somewhat contradictory, things to many different people, including a former boyfriend, her professors, her former employer, her parents, and, most significantly, North herself. Kerrigan soon finds that there is no lack of suspects for Haworth’s murder. Of course, Haworth may be nothing more or less than the fifth victim of a very deranged killer who, regardless of whether he numbers Haworth among his targets, is still at large and waiting to strike again.
At heart, THE BURNING is a character-driven book. While it may take a while to get to the who- and why-dunit, one cannot help but be thoroughly intrigued and enchanted by Kerrigan, who is a wonderful traveling companion through the geographical and social environs of present-day London. The second volume of this series has already been published in Europe, and hopefully we will be brought up to speed on the character and the series sooner rather than later.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 20, 2011