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Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
12:01 AM 16th May 2024
arts
Interview

Meeting A Theakston Old Peculier Crime Author: Jane Casey

 
What a faux pas, but at least Jane Casey has a sense of fun. As I settle to start the interview, I find myself struggling with a frog in my throat, and all I manage to say is, "Your husband is a criminal." After a seemingly long pause, I swiftly added the word 'lawyer'.

Casey quickly responds with amusement, "I'm glad you added a lawyer," and an inflection in her voice suggesting an idea for a plot.

That sense of fun comes out in her tenth novel, The Close, which features on the long list for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2024. "I really wanted to try something different as a kind of present to myself for having made it to the tenth book," she tells me.

"I always say anyone can come in at any point in the series; there is no need to have read all the previous books. But The Close is the first time I have taken the main characters, DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent, out of their usual world and sent them undercover to pose as a couple.

The relationship between the two has been rising to a crescendo, and Casey has assiduously been taking her readers on a journey.

"It brought a lot of things to the surface that had been bubbling underneath for a few books, and I thought it was a good time to move their relationship on and see how they would engage with each other."
Casey admits it was a clever move to trap them in a suburban house.


She tells me the book was truly delightful and enjoyable to write. “I told my husband I was probably the only person who cared about the book , but fortunately I was wrong!”

Casey came to crime fiction because she enjoys the structure of the stories and gets bored easily. "I know there will be a very satisfying resolution. I love the way that there's a challenge for the reader to try and solve whatever's happening as the plot develops.

“It’s quite an active thing to read a crime novel, and it says something interesting about society. Without oversimplifying, Andrew, you can incorporate various devices, intriguing themes, and relevant contemporary issues into a narrative, all of which I can touch on without telling people what to think, and it’s a device where I can explore what's actually happening in society.

“I'm a crime addict. I started with Agatha Christie, the gateway drug for everyone. I've been rereading her recently, and I am such a fan of how concise she is. What an amazing author! She doesn't always get respect. Perhaps people think of her as a cosy lady, but she was quite a fierce writer.”

Other influences have been Dorothy L. Sayers and all the golden-age women who were so incredible in their writing, including Mary Stewart, a novelist who penned "impeccable thrillers" set in beautiful locations during the 1950s and 1960s.

It’s quite an active thing to read a crime novel .... you can incorporate various devices, intriguing themes, and relevant contemporary issues into a narrative...
Christie excelled at red herring, and I'm curious how Casey approaches her writing. Is she a meticulous planner of plots, or does she just roll with instinct and respond to ideas on an ad hoc basis? She tells me, rather conveniently, that the answer is both; she would never turn down a moment of intuition.

For Casey, it is like preparing to go on a walk; one charts the route with a map beforehand, but on the way, there may be distractions—something that catches the eye—but even if one wanders off, you know how to get back on the path, eventually ending up at the intended destination.

Sometimes the metaphorical walk is with her husband, who she says is incredibly useful but is quick to add, “I can be absolved of any sort of cynicism. I met him before he was a criminal lawyer and before I had ever written a word of crime.”

Jane Casey
Jane Casey
Casey understands the reason behind my question, which is that some authors draw on real-life events; she could have a rich source of material and a potpourri of various plotlines.

"We are very interested in crime, justice, and the world we live in as a family. Sometimes we talk about things over the dinner table. His job is really fascinating; there's always someone or something interesting about his day, whether it's something somebody else is doing or something he's doing.”

I'm beginning to understand that Casey doesn't mind the editing process, which raises the question of whether it leads to any tension.

My only problem is that he'll sometimes say something can't happen the way I want it to, because it wouldn't actually happen that way. It can be frustrating, but it may lead to a better outcome than the original idea.”
If something doesn’t spoil the rhythm of her plots, she will listen. She confides that, as a former children's book editor, she respects the editing process.

“Sometimes all you need is an editor to say, ‘Look, your attention has wandered in this bit. You may be interested in Ming vases, but others may not be as enthusiastic.

“If the plot is sagging, I would rather someone tell me. I have complicated plots; there are always lots of different things going on feeding into each other.”

I really wanted to try something different as a kind of present to myself for having made it to the tenth book.
If Casey does draw on real-life events, she says a reader may not necessarily realise what the original inspiration was by the time it's been through all the different ways a story can change as it is written.

Like many novelists, Casey is a news junkie and wanted to be a journalist, but it turned out she was too shy to ask people questions. I laugh nervously, I know where she's coming from. The first time, it can be quite daunting. We both agree, though, that crime writers and journalists have to have a sense of curiosity, or to be frank, be downright nosey.

“I just find it fascinating what people do to one another,” she says.

Casey grew up in Ireland, a country with a rich literary genre, which she fleetingly tried her hand at. However, "it didn't take me long to realise I enjoyed crime fiction, which led to my first book, The Missing, and the story seemed to be telling itself in the back of my mind."

Interestingly, like a couple of authors on the long list, Casey tried her hand at writing children’s crime fiction.
“It was always something I wanted to do. It was one of those things—an opportunity I just couldn't turn down.

“Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of crime, and they are more likely to commit it themselves. They don't quite have the foresight to think they may jeopardise their future. The books are hard-core and hard-hitting about murders and kidnappings, with quite a lot going on.

"I would love to revisit them and maybe develop them for television or something like that, because they are fun stories, and I love the characters."

Currently, Casey's eleventh book, A Stranger in the Family, remains on the Irish bestseller list after its publication in March.

It ends on a cliffhanger, which Casey will not do again; she gets regular comments from readers saying, ‘I loved the book, but then the ending ruined my day ’ and ‘I was sitting in the garden reading when I got to the end -how could you?’

Like Casey’s books, I am enjoying the narrative and chatting, but she casually tells me that she has missed the deadline for the 12th.

To avoid making another faux pas, I end the interview so Casey can get back to developing Maeve and Josh's relationship.


Jane Casey is longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2024 for The Close (Harper Fiction; Harper Collins)

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Award is presented by Harrogate International Festivals and sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with Waterstones and Daily Express, and is open to full-length crime novels published in paperback between 1 May 2023 to 30 April 2024.The shortlist is announced on Thursday 13 June after which the public are invited to vote for the winner at www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com. The winner will be revealed on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 18 July, receiving £3,000 and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by T&R Theakston Ltd.