Friday, 29 April 2011

The Burning ~ Jane Casey

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank You.

I had great difficulty with Jane Casey's first novel, The Missing, so much difficulty, in fact, that I didn't finish it.  I'm not certain what it was about the book that I found so off putting.  Perhaps it was the theme, but I've read books about missing children before.  Perhaps the plot or the characters just didn't grab my attention.  For whatever reason it didn't strike a chord with me and as a consequence I wouldn't have picked up her second novel, The Burning, if it hadn't been for the fact that I read several very complementary reviews out there in the blogging world.

And, I'm very glad that I did, because if this book is anything to go by, Casey is going to be one of those writers who improves with successive volumes and in DC Maeve Kerrigan, she has a character who will definitely be worth knowing over a long period of time.

Maeve is part of an elite murder squad investigating a series of murders, each of which has ended with the victim's body being set fire to following a brutal beating.  When Rebecca Haworth's body is found in apparently similar circumstances the first thought is that she is victim number five.  However, as evidence is gathered and forensic reports are studied an element of doubt begins to grow and the team has to face the possibility that they may have a copy cat killer at work.  Already under extreme pressure from the press and public to make progress in identifying and catching the killer they have named 'The Burning Man', the police have to decide whether to go public with their fears or carry on the investigation as if there were only one killer while keeping an open mind on the question of Rebecca's attacker.  It falls to Maeve to follow up the possibility that there may be something in Rebecca's past that has led to an old enemy taking advantage of the publicity surrounding the serial killings to rid themselves  of her unwelcome presence.  Key to Maeve's enquiry is Louise North, Rebecca's roommate when they were students and, for the most part, the story is told alternately from Maeve and Louise's point of view.

The picture that Maeve builds up of Rebecca is very different from that which the world in general saw and the further she delves into the young woman's past (and present) the more the DC questions the apparently close relationship that Louise claims the two had continued to share.  Certainly something happened in their last shared term at Oxford that has cast a shadow over their friendship and as the investigation continues it begins to look as if finding out what that was might provide the key to identifying Rebecca's killer.

Casey's development of the characters of these two very different women is probably the best thing in the novel and it is Maeve who will take me back to her next book, which it seems will also feature the young policewoman.  I'm less sure of her ability to handle plot.  She sets herself up with a very complex premise, because the hunt for the serial killer has to continue and in many ways her narrative choices signal the resolution of that story as the climax of the book, which it is not.  I'm also slightly concerned that she may feel that she has a good thing going in the two different first person narrative voices and it may become a pattern.  And you all know my feeling about pattern.  It gets its effect when you break it.  Stick to it too rigidly and you become straitjacketed by it.  Nevertheless, this seems to me to be a far better book than The Missing and I am very much looking forward to the appearance of The Reckoning later in the year.


  1. Hello Annie,

    I have just got this book back from my father, so it's right near the top of my TBR pile.

    After reading nothing but good reviews about it (including your own, of course), I may just have to get on with it very soon.

    I'm always a sucker for a good detective story, but just how many more original ideas for a case, are there out there?


  2. I didn't enjoy this one so much. While I enjoyed the plot, I didn't like the way it was executed. I did like the character of Maeve though and would be interested to read her next book.

  3. Yvonne, as you can see, Nikki-ann didn't enjoy it as much as I did so it's very much a case of suck it and see, but I do think Casey has a voice that is worth hearing and hopefully she will continue to develop.

    Nikki-ann, it was the shaping of the plot that gave me the problems I did have with the book. I can see why she wanted to take the approach she did, but it was a very difficult idea to execute well. Still, better that than sticking too much to the tried and tested, perhaps.

  4. I have a hard time with books that show violence towards children or too much graphic violence as well unless it is handled very carefully. I'm not at all familiar with Jane Casey, but she seems like someone to add to my list--thanks!

  5. So do I Danielle, but this is just about bearable.

  6. I have read both The Missing and The Burning. I thought The Missing was a better-than-average debut let down by its ending (so it is just as well you did not finish it!). I was not inspired to read more by her but The Burning was on sale in a bookshop very cheap so I bought it, and agree with your review that it is a very good crime novel. (The publisher's blurb to the effect that it is a novel about burning people does not help it - it almost put me off buying it, and of course the book is not about that at all). I found it a good thriller as well as an involving account of a woman trying to survive in a male-dominated culture, avoiding many of the regular perils of such accounts. I shall definitely read her next. (I don't remember any graphic violence in The Burning, and I really hate it, so I think I'd have remembered if there was any).

  7. Maxine, how nice of you to visit. No, I don't remember any graphic violence either and like you I'm sure it would have stuck in my mind. One of the reasons I have stopped listening to crime fiction of CD is because you can't skim past those passages worth the ease you can manage in a book.