Having given myself a dressing down for falling behind in terms of what is current in children’s literature suddenly I find myself reading YA fiction at every turn, although if I’m honest this latest venture into the realms of teen lit came about by accident. Amongst the quite substantial number of women writers recently entering the field of the police procedural one of those I’ve appreciated the most has been Jane Casey with her tales of DC Maeve Kerrigan. I’ve seen Maeve described as a young Jane Tennison, which I think is a bit over the top. She is nowhere near that hard. I’m not certain, however, that this isn’t a description that might well be applied to the female ‘detective’ in her most recent book, How To Fall, even though Jess Tennant is just fifteen.
I ordered How To Fall from the library assuming it would be another in the Kerrigan series (and for anyone reading this and is worried that Casey has given up on Maeve, there is a fourth volume coming later in the year) only when I got is home to discover that it is a YA thriller with young Jess as the heroine who sets out to discover the truth behind the death of her cousin, Freya, the previous summer. Jess and her mother, Molly, have been estranged from the rest of the family since Molly left the village of Port Sentinel to marry and it is only the breakup of that marriage that takes her and Jess back to the place of her birth and into the very welcoming arms of her identical twin sister and the rest of her large family. However, Jess finds it hard to settle in the small coastal community not the least because she is Freya’s double and her presence brings back disturbing memories, reawakening the teenage rivalries that may possibly have lain at the root of Freya’s death. For even though the inquest has determined that Freya died accidentally the rumours that she may have taken her own life have never quite gone away.
Well, Jess may be physically like Freya but she is nothing like her in character. Feisty is a mild word for young Jess and she is determined that she is going to find out precisely what did happen to her cousin; the more so after her first encounter with the town bully, Natasha, who, to put it mildly, is a nasty piece of work. Get on the wrong side of Natasha and your life is going to be hell. Ostracism is the least of your worries. And, Freya had certainly got on Natasha’s wrong side by attracting the attention of Ryan, the young man Natasha sees as her own personal property. Casey is excellent both at conveying the sheer evilness of cyber bullying and how insidiously it invades the lives of young people and also at exploring the way in which just one dominant character can take over the lives of those around her and destroy their ability to think and act for themselves. As Jess learns more about what happened the previous summer she becomes more and more convinced that Freya’s death was no accident and even begins to question whether or not her cousin was murdered.
Unfortunately it is not only the teenage inhabitant of Port Sentinel who want to see Jess let matters rest, the police, in the presence of DI Dan Henderson, Molly’s one time boyfriend, are also disinclined to reopen the case and here I think is an indication of the one feature that doesn’t quite work in this novel. If you are going to write a book for children or teenagers you always have the problem of what are you going to do with the adults. Your readers certainly don’t want them hanging around and traditionally they are despatched on holiday or taken off to hospital or got rid of in some other convenient if not very convincing way. The kind of questions that Jess is asking, the problems that she finds herself facing, should mean that she has contact with more adults than she does and certainly that her mother, Molly, should be taking more of an interest in what is going on. But, there are sections of the book where Molly seems to conveniently disappear and whereas a YA reader might accept this, I’m afraid I don’t. If you’re going to write a serious crime novel and that is what this is, then you can’t dispose of or ignore your prime witnesses just because they are over the age of consent.
Other than that, this is a cracking good crime novel with a plot that is unfortunately all too believable and a sparkling protagonist who might well grow up to be the next Jane Tennison. And we will have the chance to find out because the blurb on the back of the book promises that this is the first Jess Tennant thriller. Now that would be interesting, to take a character through from teenage fiction, introduce her into the police force as a career and then move her into an adult series. I wonder if that is what Casey has in mind?