Jane Casey’s ‘After the Fire’

After the fireA fire rips through the top two floors of a tower block, leaving three people dead. One of the dead happens to be the controversial right-wing MP Geoff Armstrong – one who has no business being in those flat that night, so far from home. Of those who made it out before the blaze took hold, a young boy is separated from his mother, an illegal prostitute flees the scene with nothing but the clothes on her back and a child from one of the block’s more dubious families suffers horrific burns.

To make things worse, it soon becomes clear that the fire is arson and Geoff Armstrong may not have jumped to his death to avoid the flames – he may have been murdered. With such a high profile death, the force are under increasing scrutiny and pressure to get to the bottom of the situation as fast as possible. But with any number of motives, potential suspects and possible intended victims, narrowing down the search is an enormous ask.

Against this background, our protagonist Maeve Kerrigan is battling her own demons – not the least of which is working with her brash and abrasive senior colleague, DCI Josh Derwent. Her home life is a mess and when her long term stalker steps up his harassment, Maeve reaches breaking point.

Despite his overbearing persona, the friendship and working relationship between Maeve and Derwent has been slowly developing throughout the series. After events of the last novel, Maeve is suffering more than she wants to let on. When her behaviour grows more reckless and she’s out of options, it’s Derwent who steps up to help her deal with the situation once and for all. Despite the fact that he’s still as abrasive as ever, he proves that under the brash exterior, he’s someone that Maeve can count on. But as the stakes get higher, events take a dramatic and life-altering turn.

This is the kind of detective novel I like – it has some great, strong central characters, some interesting cases and a good, solid ongoing backstory to tie everything together. This book has a darker feel to it than some of the earlier novels, as Maeve’s social life goes up in smoke and she’s left with only Derwent to confide in. That relationship in itself is interesting. He’s overbearing and a bit of a bully, but also sometimes charming. As a friendship, I like it, but I hope that it doesn’t slip into romance further down the line, as this could make for a very different dynamic.

You don’t have to have read the other novels in the series to enjoy this latest offering from Jane Casey, but it does help, especially as one of the threads running through this novel is one that’s been gradually building throughout several of the previous books.

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