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Monday, July 9, 2012

It's a (Bad) Man's World


Out of all the evils which men can do, sexual predators are among the most reviled. So deeply-rooted is our hatred of them, in fact, that it’s impossible for us to feel much sympathy for a sex offender who is himself the victim of a serious crime. (It seems a lot less awful and a lot more like karmic retribution, if you will.) 
What if the person has already been amply punished (according to the legal system), though? Is he still exempt from sympathy if the worst happens to him?
Author Jane Casey offers a thrilling--and thoughtful--look at how we view the monsters who live among us, in The Reckoning.  
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Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan doesn’t know whether to be happy or horrified when her supervisor tells her she’s being partnered with DI Josh Derwent. On one hand, working with an experienced, successful detective like Derwent should prove invaluable to Maeve, still a newbie on the murder task force. On the other hand, she’s heard through the grapevine that he’s a loose cannon. Worse, she can tell within minutes of their introduction that her new partner is a thoroughly-detestable chauvinist pig who gets his jollies by saying outrageous things to others.
As for the case they’ll be heading, it looks like a nasty one. A killer is at large, and he (or she) has already brutally murdered and mutilated three men--three known pedophiles, to be precise. With precious little in common between the crime scenes, all they can really be sure of is that their killer will almost certainly strike again.
It’s soon apparent to Maeve that while Derwent wants to find the killer in order to clear the case, he won’t be shedding any tears for the victims. She feels differently; not only does she want to catch the murderer, but she feels awful about what the victims--who were tortured horribly--must have endured before dying. (She’s also aware how unpopular their investigation will be with the public; no one will be rooting for the cops to catch someone viewed as a righteous vigilante, an avenger who targets only the sicko pedophiles living with impunity alongside the good citizens of London.)
The detectives begin with an assumption of revenge for a motive... perhaps someone whose life was touched by a pedophile and is now exacting what he or she sees as justice on those convicted and since returned to society. But, when Maeve unexpectedly winds up saving the fourth (intended) victim’s life, the detectives are forced to conclude they’ve been going at things all wrong. 
The person behind the killings isn’t who or what they were expecting, nor is the motive what they assumed. And, they’re no better prepared when what began as a string of murders suddenly becomes a frantic, city-wide search for a missing teenage girl, instead. 
As their case grows ever darker, Maeve and the rest of the team realize they only thought they’d seen the face of evil in the victims and murderers who populated the inquiry early on. Now, evil is much closer to home... and that evil has become personal.
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Characters--with all their foibles, quirks, hangups, and personal baggage--are key to a story like this, and author Casey is more than up to the task of bringing them to vivid life. 
Maeve, as the star of the story, has impressive depth. Young and attractive, she could rely on her feminine wiles to get by, but doesn’t; for serious Maeve, her youth and appearance are things she rarely dwells on (unless someone like the obnoxious DI Derwent coerces her into trotting them out while interrogating a suspect). She really thinks about the cases that make up her work, not merely as intricate puzzles to be figured out, but as moral questions that require real answers. She uses her brain as well as her heart.
She’s never sure of herself, though--not because she’s a woman in a male-dominated field, but because of her inexperience--always second-guessing her thoughts, worrying about her suppositions, and agonizing over her decisions, actions, and words.(Interestingly, her personal life parallels her work life; she’s involved in a relationship--a forbidden one with another member of the murder squad--and is even more hesitant and unsure about it than she is about her cases. Heck, Maeve can’t even commit to long-term living arrangements; her longest lease has only been a couple of months.)
The story isn’t only about Maeve, of course (nor is it shown solely through her eyes, although she is the primary voice), and the author does a good job making the other characters equally interesting. Derwent may be the surly jerk who keeps Maeve unbalanced and uncomfortable, but he also has a long, successful working relationship with their supervisor, which is a point in his favor. The boss is someone Maeve knows only as a proper, by-the-books sort of chap, yet he reveals an entirely different side of himself--something coarser and angry--during the case. Maeve’s boyfriend is a nice guy, and considerably more interested in pursuing a committed relationship than she is (a nice twist on things). Even the newest member of the team--the only other female on the squad--is well-drawn in her minor role, and what feels like it could become a real friendship between the two women slowly develops.
Finally, Casey knows how to craft a riveting story. Whether it's the intricate, twisted turns, the absolute relevance to modern society, or the final act of tying it all together, this is one keenly-plotted tale.    
I hadn't heard of Jane Casey until I picked up The Reckoning (which, as it turns out, is actually the sequel to 2011’s The Burning, which kicked off the Maeve Kerrigan series), but I’ll definitely be snatching up her new releases from now on... and if you give her a try, chances are, you will be, too. :) 


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