Kerrigan returns in a fabulously twisty tale
Crime: Cruel Acts
Harper Collins, trade paperback, 358 pages, €15
Irish writer Jane Casey has been turning out crime novels at a ferocious rate - this is the eighth in her Maeve Kerrigan series since 2010, as well as a handful of standalone books. All par for the course in crime fiction, but where Casey stands out is the way the quality hasn't dipped: Cruel Acts is every bit as good as its predecessor, and indeed is possibly her best work so far.
Once again, Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan - a Londoner of Irish extraction - is front and centre, and this time she's dealing with a particularly horrendous run of crimes, and a despicable criminal in Leo Stone. Or is he? There, naturally, lies the rub, and the crux upon which our story turns.
Stone was convicted in 2014 of murdering two young women, Sara and Willa. Now, because of jurists researching him online and certain question marks over the forensic evidence, his conviction has been overturned and a retrial set.
Kerrigan, alongside Detective Inspector Josh Derwent - boss, sparring partner and frenemy of sorts - is tasked with investigating from the beginning. They revisit the sites from where the victims disappeared, re-interview witnesses, re-examine physical evidence.
Willa's grief-stricken family simply want Stone convicted and sent back inside as soon as possible. Interestingly, Sara's parents now believe that the accused man was innocent, and want the "real killer" caught.
Kerrigan also begins looking into the case of Rachel, a missing woman whose blood may have been found in Stone's house. She insists he killed Rachel, too. Derwent is unconvinced.
Meanwhile, a woman called Tessa has been abducted and is being held captive somewhere. Stone had insisted on meeting Kerrigan during the period Tessa went missing, which might give him an alibi - but is it all a cunning double-bluff?
Also in the mix is Kelly, a young man who grew up in foster care before tracking down his biological father - Stone - and trying to give him a second chance in life. Everybody loves Kelly, who's good-natured, decent and gentle. Again, however, could this all be a double-bluff? Is Kelly too sweet to be wholesome?
I'll say no more about the plot, since - with Casey, as with all crime fiction - much of the fun is following where the narrative brings you. And this is an especially clever one, with multiple strands twisted into each other until the reader is bamboozled in the best possible way. Casey keeps expert control of her numerous plotlines - mostly.
A few little bits didn't ring 100pc true to me, particularly the motivation of one central character. That said, perhaps this is actually better: real-life, unlike the smooth puzzle-box of a crime novel, often doesn't make sense, people don't always behave consistently, and things aren't always fully explained and comprehensible.
From the stylistic point of view, Cruel Acts is extremely well-written. One long paragraph, capturing what it means to be young and unencumbered in a big city during summertime, is really superb - as good a piece of prose as you'll read anywhere.
Kerrigan, of course, is the book's heart. She's a tremendous character: smart, brave, determined, idealistic and basically dead-on, but not unrealistically perfect, and not without flaws.
Her pining over ex-boyfriend Rob, for instance, is the kind of thing that would drive a friend mad, although there are signs that she's "getting closure".
Still: you'd forgive Kerrigan a lot.
She's a great heroine in a series that's establishing itself as one of the finest in all of crime fiction.