After the Fire | Jane Casey | 2015 | Ebury | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book
Murchison House, on north London’s Maudling Estate, burns. The tenth and eleventh floors are destroyed, their wreckage concealing three bodies, two of them holding each other, trapped behind locked doors. This is an estate full of secrets and nothing reveals that quite as much as the body found at the bottom of the tower block – controversial right wing MP Geoff Armstrong jumped, choosing certain death above being discovered alive in this place. Outside Murchison House a young boy is found, lost, missing his mother, but calling himself by two names. So many secrets. Police officer Maeve Kerrigan and her boss Josh Derwent are given the case and it’s inevitable that their personal feelings will be affected as they work their way through the homes and families of the tenth and eleventh floors.
Without doubt, After the Fire is my favourite police procedural of 2015 so far. There are several reasons for this, one of which is the brilliantly complex and puzzling mystery, and another is the superb characterisation. This is the sixth Maeve Kerrigan novel but it’s my first and it didn’t matter a jot. Nothing was given away about previous investigations but it did highlight that I’ve missed something very special indeed. Maeve and Derwent are a fantastic combination. Derwent might be the senior officer but there’s little doubt who the true boss is – Maeve. However, it’s probably more accurate to say that Derwent is very happy to let Maeve think she’s the boss. He’s a cheeky git for much of the time but his heart is well and truly wedged in the right place, caring deeply for the safety of Maeve, caring deeply for the young lost child outside Murchison House. There is a little frisson between Derwent and Maeve but it’s delicately treated and there seems little chance of it growing out of control. For them both, the job comes first.
Jane Casey is a fine writer. She moves the perspectives around, mostly showing us the investigation from the points of view of Maeve and Derwent, but she also gives us a glimpse into the dark and hidden world of Murchison House. Very early on we are aware that there is something very sinister going on in the flat where the two young women are found dead, embracing in terror for comfort as they died. We see moments in the lives of the victims. It pulls us close to them. But there is still much for us all to learn – about the lost boy with the false name or the extended family with a domineering matriarch that gathers around the hospital bed of their poor young burnt daughter.
The mystery surrounding the presence of the MP in the flats is a compelling one and it leads Maeve and Derwent on a chase that is both intricate and disturbing. I was hooked instantly, drawn in ever tighter as I felt closer to the innocent and the police officers working towards a resolution. There are moments that leave the reader reeling, one moment in particular is shocking. This is wonderful storytelling. I cannot fault it and now I will look out for everything that Jane Casey writes.