Book Review: The Burning by Jane Casey

The Burning

Jane Casey

Ebury, November 2010 (paperback).

Part police-procedural and part psychological suspense, The Burning is a very good crime novel. From the cover words, one would think that this book is about a serial killer who is attacking young women walking home late at night in south London, and burning them. Although this plot description would usually put me off reading a book, my experience of the author’s previous (debut) novel, The Missing, encouraged me to buy The Burning, and I’m glad I did as the serial killer element is very much a side-issue.

DC Maeve Kerrigan is part of the team working on the case of the murdered women. She’s called out at 3 a.m. one day when it is thought that the killer has been caught in the act. Simultaneously with the discovery that this is not true, the body of a young woman is found – presumed the fifth victim. Maeve and the head of the task force, DI Godley, have their doubts based on some differences in the fifth case from the previous four, so Maeve finds herself assigned to a ‘sideline’ investigation into the fifth murder. Godley wants to keep the possibility that there may be two killers within his squad and away from the media until he is sure one way or the other.

Maeve is a competent detective plagued by petty sexism and racism (she’s Irish) that never reaches the level of justifiying a complaint, but which is corrosive and unsettling for her. At the same time, she’s impulsively moved in two months earlier with Ian, a banker, and their relationship is not working out, to put it mildly.

Despite her personal insecurities, Maeve pursues her investigation into the “fifth” case with professional vigour, which involves investigating friends, family and ex-colleagues of the dead woman. Most of the book is told from her point of view, but the chapters in Maeve’s voice are interspersed with short entries by Louise, the dead girl’s best friend. By these means, we gradually build up a picture of the woman and her life, as Maeve closes in on what must have happened.

Matters come to a head one night when the police, including Maeve, take part in a large undercover operation. Maeve, with the help of her sympathetic colleague Rob and DI Godley, works out the truth by a combination of deductive reasoning and instinct – but of course, not before she herself is endangered.

This novel is both readable and impressive. Although its context is that of the search for the serial killer, the author is much more interested in the life of the fifth victim and how her death came about, so rather than dominating the novel with clichéd accounts of murders, the serial-killer case is tangential to the main event – constantly threatening and creating pressure on the police team, yet insubstantial rather than in the foreground. In my opinion, this makes the novel both stronger and distinctive. Although the solution to the “fifth” mystery is not much of a surprise, it certainly has impact, due to the reader’s involvement in the characters, particularly Maeve –a determined and attractive protagonist whom I hope to meet again one day.

I purchased this novel on impulse as a half-price offer.

There seem to be no independent reviews of the book yet in the media or on blogs, apart from this very brief one by Cath Staincliffe at Tangled Web. There are some customer reviews at the UK Amazon website.

My review of The Missing, Jane Casey’s previous novel.

Jane Casey at AuthorsPlace.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Burning by Jane Casey

  1. Margot Kinberg said…
    Maxine – Thanks for this fine review :-). Isn’t it nice when an impulse purchase like that works out to have been a wise choice? I am happy for you that you enjoyed the novel as much as you did. So many novels that include serial killers really are clichéd, as you say. I’m glad this one wasn’t. It’s interesting you mention some of the challenge that Kerrigan faces in her job. An easy trap for the author to fall into is to make a situation so intolerable for a character that we wonder why the character stays in it. It takes talent to have that situation difficult enough to be upsetting, but not enough for what you might call real action.

    Reply 17 November 2010 at 18:19

    Jose Ignacio said…
    I love your evil plan to ever increase our TBR shelves Maxine. Excellent review.
    Reply 17 November 2010 at 18:40

    Dorte H said…
    I am glad this new Jane Casey lives up to your expectations. Miriam and I enjoyed her debut very much so I´d definitely also jump at a half-price offer. (I have checked the Kindle price – not too bad either).

    Reply 17 November 2010 at 19:07 said…
    Good to know about another author and book. And, yes, the TBR list and budget grow unmanageably, but in a good way.

    Reply 17 November 2010 at 19:51

    Bernadette said…
    The local Borders has just started up its loyalty program which of course I joined even though I haven’t bought a book in the store for more than 2 years. I was of course drawn by the $20 sign-up gift and yesterday spent 30 minutes looking without success for a book I wanted to buy even with free money (offerings included the new Patrica Cornwell for the bargain basement price of $36 and 17 shelves worth of JP + other). I did see this author’s name though – can’t remember if it was this book or the first one but I shall return to the store with my voucher in hand and make my purchase. Thanks.

    Reply 17 November 2010 at 21:59

    Maxine said…
    Happy to oblige, Bernadette – anything to help someone out of a PC JP impasse 😉
    Thanks everyone else for your really nice comments, much appreciated.

    Reply 18 November 2010 at 12:57

    Declan Burke said…
    Couldn’t agree more, Maxine. Stumbled across THE BURNING accidentally, and it’s terrific. One of my top reads of the year, in fact. Casey has a lovely, subtle style … and I love the ‘bait-and-switch’ of the serial killer story that evolves into something entirely different.

    Cheers, Dec

    Reply 19 November 2010 at 07:24

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