Book review: The Last Girl by Jane Casey

The Last Girl
by Jane Casey
Ebury Press, 2012
Maeve Kerrigan #3

No mention is made by the publisher inside this book that it is the third in a series featuring DC Maeve Kerrigan of the Met – a good detective in an institutionally sexist and occasionally racist (she’s Irish by origin) organisation. The main plot of The Last Girl does not depend on anything in the earlier novels, so it can be enjoyed without having read them, but recurring characters have been established previously and some themes continue through the books.

The main plot concerns a brutal murder of a woman and her teenage daughter in their home in Wimbledon Village, an area of London inhabited by the richer end of the professional classes, hence the reader is treated to an undercurrent of social comment as Maeve and her aggressively macho boss DCI Josh Derwent briefly interview the surviving members of the family – the father and the twin sister of the dead girl – and go through the house searching for evidence.

The story continues in a traditional theme: Maeve and Derwent drive around London interviewing the few relatives and friends of the dead. The father, a criminal defence lawyer, is portrayed as an odious person with no time for his surviving daughter and with a few people in his past who probably bear him a grudge because of the cases in which they were involved. The narrative is well-written but exceedingly slow, as it takes the detectives more than 250 pages to visit a half-dozen or so witnesses and suspects. If they had looked on Wikipedia at the outset of their investigation, they would have known of the existence of a surprise character who enters the novel at this point, causing its focus to shift from interview mode to celebrity gossip/”characters in peril” mode, leading to the inevitable dangerous climax and a wrap-up chapter of exposition explaining the secrets that led to the crimes.

Interwoven with the main plot are one or two subplots, one involving the romance between Maeve and her erstwhile colleague Rob. The couple is now living together but Maeve is commitment-shy, leading her to some immature behaviour concerning Rob’s possible interest in another woman as well as to her reluctance to confide in him (or anyone) that the stalker from the previous novel, The Reckoning, may be back. The other subplot concerns the police’s attempts to stem the gang warfare that is getting out of control on London’s streets – again, this story began in the The Reckoning but here is dealt with in a way I found not credible, including a trip by Maeve and her uber-boss Godley to visit a crime lord in prison, and a coincidental link between this case and the deaths being investigated by Maeve.

Despite the (rather many) flaws and missing elements in this novel, the fact that the solution to the main mystery does not depend much on the work done by Maeve and Derwent, and its excessive 500-page length, it is an enjoyable read because the author can write well. The sketches of the people interviewed reveal interesting dilemmas about legalities, crime and justice, as well as questions about human nature. It is hard to escape the sense that the book has been written with an eye to a film version, though, as it is far stronger on description and events than it is on motivation and sustained characterisation.

Thanks to Michelle for sending me this book. Her review of it is at Euro Crime.

Another review of this book is at the Irish Independent.

My review of the first book in the series, which I enjoyed: The Burning. I have read, liked, but not reviewed the second, The Reckoning – see this review from the Irish Independent for more information. The author’s strong debut novel is a standalone, which I have reviewed: The Missing.

Euro Crime’s reviews of all Jane Casey’s books to date.

Author’s website (whose homepage is strongly reminiscent of J K Rowling’s!).

11 thoughts on “Book review: The Last Girl by Jane Casey

  1. Well, I”ll add it to the TBR mountain. The library does not have it yet, but does have The Reckoning and The Burning. Do you recommend those?
    I’m now reading Nevada Barr’s latest book The Rope. It starts out woman in peril, which usually is a turn-off to me, but Barr has written it well, with much respect for the environment and quite interesting thoughts and self-preserving actions by park ranger Anna Pigeon. I’m in the thick of it, but put aside other books to keep going on this one.

    • Yes, The Burning and The Reckoning (in that order) are both good, Kathy, I think The Burning (the first) is the best of the three. Thanks for the update on Nevada Barr, I’ve a long way to go there as I’ve only read one.

  2. Maxine – It does sound as though there are really interesting elements in this novel. I always admire a solid writing style that keeps the reader’s interest. I had to laugh at your “surprise character” comment, though. I honestly may wait a bit before reading this, despite its appealing points. Just not sure I’m up to a 500-page novel at the moment without a real payoff.

    • I know what you mean, Margot — The Burning, the first in the series, is shorter (or at least, seemed to be!) and better, I think.

  3. I haven’t heard of this author at all Maxine which is strange as I like reading crime fiction set in London. I have no problem with a book being slow paced – it makes a welcome change in fact and it sounds like you enjoyed reading it. I don’t recall having read of a crime set in Wimbledon village so that is a first!

  4. Crime in Wimbledon village! Not during the tennis I hope. We used to live two miles from the village during the tennis fortnight the traffic was terrible, and that was 25 years ago.

  5. Thanks, Norman and Sarah – yes, I live close to Wimbledon so it was interesting to read of a novel set there – the action moves away from there quite quickly, but via Twickenham, another local setting! In neither case, the sort of house I could ever afford to live in, though!

  6. A question about Liza Marklund, as I”m trying to figure out the new publications of the Annika Bengtzon series. A friend to whom I loaned Last Will loved it and then immediately got Red Wolf out of the library, is up all night reading it and can’t put it down, loves the writing and the character.
    I found that Exposed is on order at the library, which is a new edition of one of the previously published books. (One website says it’s the second book in the series, another says it’s the fourth, and since there are new titles, it’s hard to fathom.) None of the others are yet on order there.
    Do you know about the publication schedule of the new editions?
    And thanks for the reviews of Marklund’s last two books. Not only am I a fan, but my mystery reading friend has discovered a new author and series which she loves.

    • They are very good, aren’t they? I don’t know about the US pub schedule but the Wikipedia entry for the author is very good in that it gives both chronologies – written order and chronological order, which are different (and the alt titles). There is no right answer with Marklund but I’d go for chronological order – which is too late by the sounds of it, for your friend!

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