Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

It's a crime this detective story goes on for so long

"so excited to get a big box of advance copies of The Last Girl," announced author Jane Casey recently on her Facebook page. "I don't remember writing so much."

She's not kidding. This, the latest in a series featuring London Metropolitan Police detective constable Maeve Kerrigan, is a long book, almost 500 pages. Whether it justifies its bulkiness is another matter.

It starts promisingly enough. A prominent defence lawyer, his wife and teenage daughter, attacked at their home in London.

He has survived. They have not. Were they the victims of a disgruntled former client? Perhaps their deaths are even poetic justice; the well-off lawyer falling victim to the sort of bad people he has, by trickery and fancy words, helped avoid prison sentences on numerous occasions.

By the end, the reader has an answer. There's a thunderstorm. A confrontation. Loose ends are tied up, thanks to a huge dose of deus ex machina and some conveniently timed DNA results.

Which only leaves the middle, those hundreds of pages in between, where the mass of a novel's action takes place, either thrilling or draining a reader's spirit.

In The Last Girl, sadly, it's the latter, despite a sprinkling of subplots involving gangland feuds, police corruption, teenage sex and lesbian supermodels.

Even the arrival of the deranged stalker, who is pursuing Kerrigan from previous outings, feels more like a perfunctory guest appearance. The Last Girl feels like a book written because another book was due rather than because it needed to be written.

I'm not even blaming Jane Casey for that. Anyone who's worked in genre fiction understands the pressures.

A book must be delivered, and books are very long. Whole chapters must be devoted to things the reader knows will never matter.

Add in talk. Lots of talk.

The detective meets a stream of suspects who, far from being the inarticulate interviewees of a real investigation, spew words out in cascades. They're all just fleshing out space between the beginning and the end.

Salvation can only come in the shape of an interesting narrator, one who unites all these fragments into something bigger; but detective constable Kerrigan never really comes alive.

Her lowly police status makes her, by necessity, more sidekick than Sherlock Holmes, which could be interesting but is never explored. Her Irish background is mentioned in passing, but adds little to her as a character.

There's a strange distance in her. I kept forgetting she was telling the story. Possibly that's deliberate.

Jane Casey, who read English in Trinity, has written better books than this, and will write better books in the future.

For now, perhaps 'Killing Time' would have been a more accurate title.

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