They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and a similar warning should apply to authors. Quietly spoken and impeccably mannered, Jane Casey is a doe-eyed beauty who could well have popped up as some hack writer’s notion of what a serial killer’s victim should look like. Until, that is, she starts to talk about why she was drawn to write about an arsonist-cum-serial killer in her new novel, THE BURNING.This interview was first published in the Evening Herald.
“My husband is a criminal barrister,” she says, “and he always gets very annoyed when you get this incredibly gothic killer with a complex backstory in books and films. He says, and it’s true, that people who kill in this fashion do it because they enjoy it, full stop. So I wanted to write about the reality of what it’s like to look for someone who just likes to kill.
“It’s like the case of Levi Bellfield,” she continues, “it all happened quite close to where I used to live in London. It was a really nice area, a part of Richmond, near Twickenham, very expensive, and it was there that he beat two girls to death. He’s an incredibly sinister person, and yet he has no complicated motive for murdering women. He’s just a very violent man. And I wanted to have a character who was just a killer who liked to kill, and how do you find a person like that in a place the size of London? Because they’re not standing on a corner twirling their moustache, or leaving clues for the police to give themselves away.”
The 33-year-old Casey is Irish born and was raised in Castleknock. “Not very interesting,” she deadpans, “a typical suburb.” Except the suburbs, of course, are where all the quality fictional killers hide out behind their twitching curtains. “Actually, I think the suburbs are really creepy,” she says. “You don’t know what these apparently respectable people are thinking, or how they’re really living.”
After getting the highest marks in the country in English when she did her Leaving Certificate, Casey had the pleasure of having a medal awarded by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.
“It was just brilliant,” she says. “I sat and listened to him reading his poetry and it was just the most amazing experience. Except my father fell asleep. I could have murdered him! And Heaney obviously spotted this, we were sitting in the fifth row, and as he was winding down he said something very nice about how people had come a long way and were tired of listening to him. Except then he came over and was introduced to us, and asked where we were from, and Dad said, ‘Oh, from just down the road, in Castleknock.’ But Heaney didn’t bat an eyelid. A lovely man.”
Casey went on to read English at Oxford, and has lived in England for some years now. Her debut novel, THE MISSING, which is set in London, was shortlisted for the Crime Fiction section in this year’s Irish Book Awards.
“I know that people always says this, and that it can sound trite, but it really does mean so much to me to be included,” she says. “Mainly, I think, because a lot of people didn’t realise I am Irish, and it’s nice to have it recognised that I am, even though THE MISSING is set in London, and it has a totally English cast.
“THE BURNING is a bit different,” she says, “because Maeve Kerrigan has an Irish background, and it draws from the two cultures, playing them off one against the other, which is something I’ll be looking to do more of in later books.”
“Somebody who’s quite young and ambitious, and trying her best to get her head around the job,” according to Casey, Maeve Kerrigan is the heroine of THE BURNING, a woman who isn’t particularly skilled in any one sphere of policing but brings a rare quality of empathy to the way she goes about her job. Despite her telling eye for detail, Maeve is always likely to be battling for credibility with her male workmates.
“I think for women working in that kind of environment, they have some stark choices,” says Casey. “They can either be very girly or they can be quite butch, or they can try and just be neutral. Maeve is trying to be taken seriously, she doesn’t want to be seen as one of the girlies going off and acting as bait for the killer - she’s one of the lads, in her mind at least. But of course, they don’t care about that. And she’s always coming up against that.”
If Maeve Kerrigan is at times a contradiction in terms, so too is Jane Casey’s writing. A children’s books editor who took an mPhil in Anglo-Irish literature at Trinity College, THE BURNING somehow manages to blend a horrifyingly authentic tale of arson and serial killing with a deceptively light storytelling touch that is studded with nuggets of the blackest humour.
“I think it was partly the desire to keep it entertaining,” she says, “to keep a little bit of Maeve’s humour coming through. Police officers generally use humour to get through the things that they’re dealing with, and I think the banter is very important. I think that that’s something that Kate Atkinson does very well, that ability to entertain you as she’s telling the story, and I think you can let the story have that light touch it you want, and still deal with big themes and have dark events.”
Jane Casey’s THE BURNING is published by the Ebury Press.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
A Burning Ambition
Jane Casey’s (right) debut novel, THE MISSING, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards crime fiction category, and her new offering, the very fine THE BURNING, should be landing on a shelf near you right about now. Yours truly met with Jane last week, and a very pleasant experience it was too, for your humble host at least. To wit: