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Close encounter

Crime writer Jane Casey told David Hennessy about her new book, reaching ten books of her acclaimed Maeve Kerrigan series and having her book The Killing King adapted for the screen with Colin Morgan in one of the main roles.

Jane Casey is an international best selling author.

Her series of books about the London- Irish Detective Maeve Kerrigan has won and been nominated for many awards.

The latest instalment, The Close, which was released last week, is the tenth book in the series.

Since the first book The Burning arrived in 2010, Maeve Kerrigan has won her author the Mary Higgins Clark Award for The Stranger You Know, and Irish Crime Novel of the Year for After the Fire.

Just in 2019 Cruel Acts would win Jane Irish Crime Novel of the Year again.

Jane, originally from Castleknock in Dublin, lives in southwest London with her husband and two children.

Jane told The Irish World when we chatted to her last week that she could not have predicted how far Maeve would have gone when she first created the character over a decade ago.

Jane told us: “If you had told me I would be on book ten, I would have laughed because I just had no idea that I would be here.

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“But it’s a huge privilege to get to write that many books about the same characters and to have readers really want to know what’s going to happen with them next.

“I don’t really feel like I’m finished telling these stories yet and so I’m very happy to get to keep going.

“And I honestly have no horizon where I think, ‘Oh, yeah, when I get to that point, I’ll stop’.

“I work in three book cycles so I know what’s going to happen in the next two books to the one that I’m writing and if that keeps happening, then there’s no reason to stop.”

The last time The Irish World spoke to Jane in 2021 she had been longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Award, one of the most prestigious crime writing awards, for The Cutting Place, the last instalment in the series before The Close.

Of the awards and other accolades Jane has received she says: “It’s so humbling because every year there’s another crop of brilliant Irish crime writers.

“Every year I kind of think, ‘Well, this is the year where I’m passe and no one is going to be interested in my stuff anymore, there’s these new people coming along’.

“And what just happened is that this area of publishing has become so popular.

“The kind of talent that other people have is inspiring all of us to kind of write a little bit better and to aim a little bit higher and to be ambitious for what we do.

“I just feel so lucky that I’ve had as much recognition and critical success as I have because you can’t control that, you can only just do your best and put it out there and hope that people meet you where you are.

“So I really feel I’ve been very, very lucky to get that kind of praise and recognition and honestly, it is never anything that I would take for granted.

“It is always always a big deal.”

The Close is a change of pace for the series in that it sees Maeve Kerrigan and her superior and partner Josh Derwent going undercover in a suburban street to carry out surveillance.

There has long been tension between Maeve and Derwent, a kind of ‘will they? Won’t they?’ storyline.

The Close throws them into a situation where they have to convince strangers they are boyfriend and girlfriend, could there be a resolution to what has been building up for a number of books now? “I try not to write to the readers’ expectations, because I think sometimes when you get what you want as a reader, it’s a bit disappointing. I like to keep people guessing.

“So it would not be true to say that everything is resolved because I don’t really do that.

“But it’s really nice to have the readers who are very interested and loyal and really want to know what’s going to happen, to see their reaction is amazing.

“I was on Twitter just now. And someone said, ‘I’ve already read it twice since yesterday’.

“I take that as a massive compliment.

“She can’t have eaten in the time or slept but she’s said she’s read it twice.”

The Close finds Maeve not herself. She is still scarred from the events of the last book where she found herself in a violent relationship.

“She definitely is (scarred). I didn’t think it was fair to sort of leave all of that behind her because I think it does have a huge impact on anyone who’s in that kind of bad relationship.

“So it was nice to come back and find her putting herself back together.

“It does feel like a novel where the characters are kind of almost taking a breather. It’s kind of like a holiday for them, a moment to kind of reflect but it was quite deliberate to make it so different in tone from The Cutting Place.”

But the violence from her ex- partner Seth is not the first time Maeve has had to deal with violent or controlling men.

She was stalked by the creepy tech expert Chris Swain for a number of books. And In The Kill, a book where the police officers themselves became targets for a crazed killer, Maeve was cornered by a gang of teenage thugs who threatened rape and assaulted her.

“She definitely has (had ugly incidents).

“I’m horrible to my characters. I do feel guilty sometimes.

“She has (always been aware of the danger).

“I think, if you talk to police officers, which I occasionally get to do, they see the world very differently.

“They notice things that an ordinary person like you or I would never notice and they will have that kind of awareness, it’s almost like a sixth sense of who you can trust and who you can’t.

“I think the thing about Maeve is that that really let her down in The Cutting Place because she didn’t have a sense that she wasn’t safe and that really makes her question herself in The Close, that she got it so wrong.

“The other thing in The Close that I think is something that I’ve kind of touched on before but I hadn’t really bought out specifically, is that she’s from an Irish background and that it’s kind of transgressive for her to be a police officer at all.

“She’s representing the British state.

“There’s another character who is Irish and he kind of gives her a hard time about it and I wanted to give her the chance to kind of say, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing and I know why I’m doing it’. That mattered to me.”

It was only in 2001 that the GAA repealed rule 21 which prevented members of the Queen’s forces from participating in GAA.

So as recently as 2000 Maeve would not have been able to play camogie or Gaelic football due to an objection to her being in the Metropolitan Police.

“Even now, I think they are advised not to talk about being a police officer when they’re in Ireland.

“There’s definitely still an undercurrent of tension there and maybe there always will be.

“I think there’s been some absolutely unbelievable decisions made about Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Brexit is just such a criminal act, I could never see it as anything other than that, just the recklessness of it with regards Northern Ireland.

“I was born in 1977 and grew up with just total awareness of the conflict in the north and of prisoners in the H blocks rioting, all of that was just the backdrop to our childhoods.

“If you put on the radio in the morning in the car going to school, they’d be talking about whatever shooting there had been the previous night.

“I just think there was no awareness of any of that in London when they were talking about Brexit.

“I’m pleased obviously that things haven’t gotten worse than they are and I hope that everything is resolved happily.

“But there’s just no reason for us to be in this situation. It’s just infuriating.

“At the same time, I think it is important to look forward.

“I think Maeve is one of that first generation kids who’s just making their own way and making peace with themselves as best they can, resolving the two cultures for herself.

“I think she has to make her own sort of understanding with her background, it’s still something that she’s kind of working on.”

When he first appeared, Josh Derwent came off as abrasive, sexist and arrogant: Basically the last person Maeve wanted to be working closely with but over the series of books they have grown closer and Jane points out it was with The Stranger You Know that saw an episode from Josh’s youth come back into focus that this change really started.

“I can’t believe that the character has changed the way that he has.

“I think he’s always conscious of who’s watching him.

“I think the thing with The Close is that there’s no one there to watch them. It’s just the two of them. There’s no one to draw any conclusions about how they are or what they’re doing to one another or anything like that so they can just kind of be themselves almost for the first time.

“But at the end of the day, they have to come home so that’s really exciting to kind of play around with what happens when the holiday’s over.”

It was Josh that came to Maeve’s rescue in The Cutting Place when a beaten Maeve was too scared to move from a cupboard in her own house.

“I think the readers have definitely warmed to him over time.

“It’s funny talking to people who are still reading the earlier books in the series and haven’t kind of made their way through.

“There’s kind of a change in their relationship around The Stranger You Know, the fourth book that he’s in.

“If you get to that point, I think then you can kind of make sense of where they are in The Close but if you’re hopping from The Reckoning to this, you’d have whiplash because he’s so different and it’s hard to see how he got there.

“But it is something that has happened over a long time. And that’s the luxury of writing a ten book series, you can bring things in slowly and show the reader in almost real time how the characters are changing.

“What surprises me when I go back and look at the early books like The Burning and The Reckoning is how much the seeds of where I am now were planted in those books without me really being conscious of it, like the relationship between Josh and Maeve has developed so much over time.

“When you go back and look at his first appearance in The Reckoning, he’s very protective of Maeve.

“He’s very worried about her. He wants to know everything about her immediately.

“He’s exactly the same character that he is now and it just hits slightly differently after all that they’ve been through.

“But obviously, on some level, I was planning ahead without even realising it.”

Taking its characters away from the streets of London, The Close is closer in setting to Jane’s debut book The Missing: Suburban and quiet on the surface but in both books something horrific has been lurking in the shadows.

“I think you’re absolutely right: That kind of creepy, perfect, English suburban town ‘where nothing bad could ever happen’ and loads of bad things happen.”

Maeve and Josh are used to knowing what they’re dealing with including killers and rapists.

The difference with The Close is it has that Texas Chainsaw Massacre/ The Hills Have Eyes feeling of being fish out of water and not knowing what they’re dealing with.

“You don’t know what you’re blundered into until it’s too late.

“I think I was thinking about lockdown, and how people had to kind of bring their work home with them.

“I was thinking what would it be like for them if they were sort of working from home and suddenly all those kind of barriers that you have between yourself and your colleagues were just gone?

“But also, I think putting them somewhere where they had no context and nobody knew them, people took them at face value as soon as they arrived, and believes what they told them about being in a relationship and everything else, I think that’s really fun to kind of see how their lie kind of becomes reality for them.”

Jane’s last book The Killing Kind, a standalone story and not part of the Maeve Kerrigan series, is currently being shot in London as it is being adapted for the screen by Paramount with a cast that includes Emma Appleton, Colin Morgan and Kerr Logan.

The Killing Kind depicts a female barrister who defends a man on a charge of stalking only to become stalked herself.

“It’s very, very exciting to see it come to the screen.

“I’m really excited that they’ve kind of taken the story and they’ve remained very true to it but they’re making it into something new, which I think is really important.”

Of the impressive cast Jane says: “It’s absolutely awe inspiring, they are just so talented.

“I haven’t said this before but during lockdown, I was writing The Killing Kind.

“We used to have breaks and I would sit down with my kids and we’d watch episodes of Marlin which Colin Morgan was in so while I was actually writing, we were watching him.

“Obviously, I had no idea that he was ever going to be cast in it but he was obviously behind the scenes in the back of my mind an influence on the character.

“I think he’s fantastic and I was so pleased when they told me that they picked him.

“The character is really compelling and it just plays to all of his strengths so I’m just very excited to see it.”

Before we go Jane shares a funny story about where one of the lines in the book comes from.

“There’s one line in The Close that my husband actually said to me in 1995 when we were students together, and I’ve been waiting all this time to put it in a book.

“I told him I was putting something that he’d said in the book, and I was making Derwent say it.

“He was delighted until he found out what it was.

“It was what he said after our first kiss to a friend of his who was kind of taking the p**s for having kissed me.

“And he said, ‘I’ve had closer moments with my dog’.

“And then we didn’t actually end up going out for another year.

“I was telling my eldest about it and he just looked at his father and said, ‘How could you?’

“And my husband said, ‘That is how you were nearly never born’.

“I’ve been waiting to use that since 1995.

“I think when you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, you have a lot of ammunition so it was very fun to put one of those in the book as a kind of a little in-joke.”

The Close is out now.

The Killing Kind comes to Paramount soon.

For more information, click here.

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