My initial thoughts on Jane Casey’s The Last Girl was that it
would be a five-star novel. Casey’s command of natural dialog and her descriptions of her heroine’s inner thoughts are quite exemplary. In this third outing, Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan must deal with various emotional scars and pressures of being on the force with DI Derwent, a bluff, no-nonsense misogynist whose gruff personality never seems to detract from his razor-sharp mind and total dedication to his job.
But somewhere along the way, The Last Girl’s adrenaline-fueled plot loses steam in an investigation that becomes predictably sensational in a case that is all too easily tied up. Still, Casey’s unique gift for creating wonderfully three-dimensional characters complements Kerrigan and Derwent’s investigation into a demented killer who knifes to death mother and daughter Vita and Laura Kennford in their salubrious London home. Obviously obsessed with making a point, the killer’s modus is bizarre but not that surprising considering that wealthy family patriarch Phillip Kennford has made a substantial amount of money--and probably quite a few enemies--getting career criminals off the hook.
The room where Vita and Laura were violently killed is saturated with blood; death
walks though the hallways of the Kennford house. Maeve attempts to talk to Lydia, Laura’s twin, who was swimming in the pool in the middle of the night. As Maeve tries to break through the young girl’s silent reserve without shattering her fragile composure, all Lydia can offer is that they should be looking for someone strong and probably tall.
While Mauve is convinced that there’s something she’s not seeing about the Kennford family and how they were before the killings, Derwent notices that Philip looks remarkably composed for a man who has recently lost his wife and daughter. From the victims who remain “unknown quantities” to Kennford himself, who
comes off as an unapologetic and uncaring philanderer, the police soon learn
that the murders may be connected in some way to the spate of recent gangland killings plaguing South London. Yet another bizarre and outrageous contribution to the vocabulary of crime, the notorious slaughter of a group
of young drug dealers proves an even greater annoyance for Chief Superintendent Godley, Maeve and Derwent’s officious and enigmatic boss.
A hot, humid London summer is central to Casey‘s stylish thriller, the weather a major player as a clever killer proves to be one step ahead of the Maeve and Derwent, swallowing up people whole, innocent and guilty alike. Did Vita have a secret lover, and did Laura spill the beans on her mother’s relationship? Was Kennford--renowned for not wasting time on morality--blinded by rage and jealousy? In matters of the heart, he’s unscrupulous and undiscriminating. And what of beautiful, famous supermodel Savannah, who hides a startling secret of her own and who hasn't bothered to shield her true feelings for Kennford?
While I appreciated the more gruesome and realistic aspects of Casey's novel, the bawdy interplay between Mauve and Derwent is probably the highlight (although Derwent’s latent homophobia stretches professional credibility). Their friendship is underscored by Maeve’s ambivalence to
her boyfriend, Rob. A fellow cop, Rob has just started a new job with The Flying Squad.
While he understands a policeman’s late nights, he’s not been entirely honest with Maeve, and she senses
it. She, like Derwent, seems enthralled by Rob’s secret goings-on and a series of actions that threaten
not only the security of their relationship but also the investigation into the Kennford murders.
While the novel is wordy at times and could have been cut by about hundred pages or so, Casey does a good job of illustrating London’s criminal underbelly and how the ominous atmosphere of this tarnished, grimy landscape contributes to the growing dread Maeve and Derwent
face. Casey also wins my admiration for her skill at character development. The various suspects are beautifully drawn, which augments Maeve's journey into the darkest regions of the psyche where a killer, once unleashed, proves impossible to restrain.