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