Casey, Jane - 'The Last Girl'
It only seems a short while ago that I read Jane Casey's first book, THE MISSING, and already, she has written a fourth, THE LAST GIRL.
This new book is a police procedural centered on a female detective constable, Maeve Kerrigan. (Maeve has appeared in two of the earlier books, THE BURNING and THE RECKONING, which I'd not read before starting THE LAST GIRL). In this new book, she is teamed up with DI Derwent, an acerbic character who likes to show Maeve who's in charge. Shortly after the book opens, they are both on their way, driving through horrendous traffic to a crime-scene in a large house in an expensive part of London, on the orders of their boss, Superintendent Godley. A mother, Vita, and her 15-year-old daughter Laura have both been stabbed to death. The father Phillip Kennford has also been attacked but is still alive. But Laura's twin sister Lydia (the 'last girl' of the title) is completely unharmed, although traumatised (she discovered the bodies). Apparently, the murderer (or murderers) overlooked her, as she was outside in the garden, swimming in the pool, when the murders took place. Sadly, we quickly learn that Phillip has a strained relationship with Lydia, who is both anorexic and a self-harmer, possibly as a result of this dysfunctional relationship.
Phillip Kennford is a not a particularly likeable character. Despite the traumatic deaths of his wife and favourite daughter, he seems remarkably unaffected, and shows a particular lack of concern for Lydia. We discover that he indulged in numerous affairs, which his wife apparently ignored. Instead, Vita concentrated on being the perfect wife and mother, and (due to her own personal wealth) providing a comfortable lifestyle for her husband. Phillip, a criminal defence barrister, is used to helping criminals elude justice and as a result not in favour with the police. He asserts that he did not see the murderer, although there is a small possibility that he could have done, just before he was hit on the back of the head. Despite his profession, and the possibility that he may have made several enemies as a result, he also claims that there isn't anyone from his professional life who would want to attack his family, for any reason.
There seems to be a complete dearth of clues, motive and potential suspects. The murderer has left very few traces. Gradually, the murder team start to dig into the family background, trying to unearth both a potential motive and suspect, discovering secrets, meticulously working through a range of possible leads, until the final dramatic conclusion.
The main plot is fairly straightforward, and it is relatively easy to guess the direction it is likely to take. Apart from one major plot quibble I had, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I particularly like Maeve's character. Although she is constantly questioning herself and her abilities, her boss clearly has confidence in her, and she is a very good detective. Even so, he is not above using her for his own ends. The descriptions of the constant banter, digs, teasing and one-upmanships between Maeve and her colleagues sound very true to life, and are very entertaining. Her private life, including her relationship with Rob, another policeman, working in a new and different team, constantly suffers from her dedication to the job, including call outs to crime scenes in the middle of the night. There's plenty going on, in addition to the main story, and Jane Casey has a very engaging way of writing that makes it easy to become immersed in the story. She has developed a very strong character in Maeve, and since reading THE LAST GIRL, I've already gone back to read the two earlier books (so far, just as good!), to catch up with Maeve's earlier outings.
Michelle Peckham, England