Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on After the Fire.
Casey can’t write fast enough to quench my thirst for her top-rate English thrillers featuring London’s Irish-born Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan as she navigates her conflicts with Detective Inspector Josh Derwent and Detective Chief Inspector Una Burt. Chief Inspector and leader of the homicide team while Superintendent Charles Godley is on indefinite leave, Burt shows an obvious disdain for Derwent, usually intent on separating him from Kerrigan but forced by a complicated new investigation to use all the resources available.
The team is already stretched thin by Burt’s inability to say no to new cases.
When a fast-moving fire destroys the top floors of Murchison House, one of the towers on the Maudling Estate housing project in London, the number of dead and nature of the fire--accidental or arson--leave a number of suspicious people and circumstances to be sorted, a slow process exacerbated by the discovery of the body of Geoff Armstrong, a bigoted and politically insensitive MP with a penchant for outrageous comments. Besides two women locked in an eleventh floor flat, apparently sex-trafficked victims forced into prostitution, Armstrong’s dead body is found outside the building, as though he tried to leap to safety--except that he was dead before he fell.
All of the surviving residents of the affected apartments, and those in hospital with serious injuries, must be interviewed and categorized, each a potential target for an arsonist, from the family ruled by an iron-willed matriarch whose granddaughter is in critical care, hovering between life and death, to the elderly widow isolated from everything she knows after her house is sold; from the unobtrusive, fearful young mother and her young son to the prostitutes suffocated by fire in their locked flat. The detectives dare not leave anyone out of the investigation, the arsonist’s motive still a mystery.
Some aspects of the story are new, the details surrounding the fire and its origin; others are familiar, the housing project the scene of an attack Kerrigan suffered a year prior. The surroundings are eerily threatening because of that experience; she can’t help but anticipate recognizing the faces of those who meant to do her harm in a locked stairway in a former case. And while Maeve’s coworkers and their personal dramas are familiar
(notably her mutually antagonistic relationship with Derwent and the ongoing tension with Burt), another element in Kerrigan’s private life is about to be exposed: her longtime stalker, Chris Swain, is in London, intruding via technology into the most intimate areas of her life, his threats bolder and more violent: “There’s no such thing as a safe place anymore.” The only one cognizant of the seriousness of Swain’s imminent threat, Derwent takes action to mediate the opportunities for Swain to harm Maeve.
After the Fire is explosive from the start
as Casey describes the chaos from inside the tower, the first moments of alarm and panic as each critical character reacts, either surviving or succumbing to the blaze. Despite the absence of Maeve’s longtime lover, Rob, their relationship still unresolved, Kerrigan throws herself into the investigation fully committed, all the while conscious that her murderous stalker draws near. Dampening her private terror, Kerrigan engages in the usual exhaustive challenge Derwent presents, Burt hovering nearby to monitor his behavior. The threat crackles, malevolence spreading with each revelation of the suspects’ behavior, the pace unrelenting until the spectacular denouement. Please hurry, Ms. Casey. This reviewer craves more!