Review: The Burning by Jane Casey

If I had a dollar for every time someone has made some variation on the “you must be twisted to read all those books about serial killers” remark I’d be a rich woman. Well, moderately wealthy anyway. The comment always makes me grind my teeth as I try to respond politely when what I really want to say is “you are a moron if you think that’s all crime fiction is about”. I avoid serial killer books with the same dedication as I avoid religious proselytisers and green peas and would not, therefore, have picked up this book (with its blurb and cover that all scream serial killer) if I didn’t implicitly trust Maxine who reviewed the book at Petrona.

As the book opens we are indeed introduced to the presence of a serial killer in London. A drunk girl gets into a taxi but soon starts to feel something is wrong. The car isn’t going in the right direction and there are other hints something is amiss…she has heard about the killer named by the media as The Burning Man who has killed four women and she worries that she is in the car with him. When DC Maeve Kerrigan is called out in the early hours of the morning to the resultant crime scene it appears the killer she and the large investigative team assigned to the case have been looking for has finally been caught red-handed. But then another body is found and it too appears to be a victim of the same killer. The DI in charge of the case is unsure enough about this victim’s connection to the other cases to make sure that Maeve investigates the new case as independently as possible, though he doesn’t reassign the case because if it should turn out to be another victim of ‘their’ killer he doesn’t want there to be any legal problems with having had doubts about the case at all. This was one of the aspects of the story that made me feel quite sorry for the police and all the second guessing they must have to do and it made me wonder how often issues like this have a detrimental impact on real investigations.

All of that setup doesn’t take very long at all and so readers soon leave behind the hunt for the serial killer and follow instead Maeve’s investigation into the death of Rebecca Haworth who was an Oxford graduate and a successful PR woman. At this point we also meet Rebecca’s best friend, Louise, and from this point onwards some chapters are told from her perspective which provides a nice contrast to the scenes which unfold from Maeve’s point of view. Between the two we are slowly shown a picture of Rebecca that was a little different from first appearances and there does not seem to be a shortage of people who might have wanted her dead if she does indeed turn out not to be the Burning Man’s latest victim. The depiction of all three woman – Maeve, Louise and Rebecca – is skilfully done and their interlocking stories made the book fly by for me.

Although the book is more of a psychological suspense than anything else there are also elements of the police procedural too, especially the office politics of the work. Maeve is subject to relatively mild sexism and racism from her colleagues but she also has an intelligent and fair boss which provides a nice balance. Her personal life is not the picture of health unfortunately, as her wealthy boyfriend can’t quite understand the demands of her job, and this thread also plays out credibly across the novel.

I did find the resolution to this novel fairly easy to spot but I did enjoy watching how Casey would get us to the end I expected. The plotting is certainly logical and did have some nicely unpredictable twists along the way and the way that readers are drawn into the lives of the characters makes this well worth reading. If you’re looking for a book about the hunt for a serial killer you’ll need to go elsewhere but if you’re after a thoughtfully layered novel of suspense then you could do a lot worse than read The Burning.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Burning has been reviewed at Euro Crime, Petrona and The Book Whsiperer

I’m counting this towards my Irish Reading challenge as the author is Irish and one of the two main protagonists is of Irish heritage and this issue is addressed as one of the minor plot threads of the novel. Having read two books by male authors for this challenge I was looking for female Irish crime writers who set their books in Ireland and so far have come up blank so this will have to count.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Ebury Digital [2010]
ISBN 9781409005018
Length 327 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series standalone (?).
Source I bought it

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This entry was posted in book review, England, Ireland Reading Challenge 2011, Jane Casey. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Review: The Burning by Jane Casey

  1. Bernadette – An excellent review – thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I know exactly what you mean, too, about books that feature serial killers. I avoid them, too, unless someone whose judgement I really trust recommends them. And even then I’m cautious. I wonder why it is that so many books have that theme..

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  2. Maxine says:

    Very good review, Bernadette, which reminded me of how much I enjoyed this book (and thanks for the kind words). I have to say that I did not enjoy the second one in this series, The Reckoning, as much, but I will persevere with this author. I couldn’t agree more about the serial killers, eeugh, but I do rather like green peas 😉

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  3. Barbara says:

    What’s wrong with green peas? 😀

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    • Apparently I was born hating them Barbara – their texture, squishiness, taste all turn me off. It is a source of amusement to my family how much effort I will go to for pea avoidance – picking them out of dishes that others make and training local Asian take away restaurants about my pea hatred 🙂

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  4. Kathy D. says:

    It sounds quite interesting, and I’ll add it to the ridiculously long TBR list.
    If you like historical crime fiction, Cora Harrison, who lives in Ireland writes a series about a 16th century woman judge who struggles with British law vs. her home country’s legal system. It’s interesting if one likes historical mysteries.

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  5. Declan Burke says:

    Hi Bernadette – If you’re interested in following up on female Irish crime writers, you could a lot worse than read Tana French. There’s also Arlene Hunt, Alex Barclay Niamh O’Connor and Ava McCarthy, and I’d agree with Kathy that Cora Harrison is well worth checking out too. Cheers, Declan

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