I wanted to write about the ideas in The Killing Kind and I didn’t think they could work within my series. It was a little bit daunting to get out of my comfort zone and write something new, but I loved it.

To date, Dublin-born author Jane Casey has written 13 novels featuring Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan, beginning with 2010's The Burning. Driven, dogged, and able to discern clues and cues her largely male murder task force colleagues often miss, DC Kerrigan has closed many a case over the years and earned hard-won respect from her London law enforcement peers—as well as crime readers far and wide.

Author Casey also has three books in her YA mystery series featuring 16-year-old Jess Tennant, but this year marks a departure for her with The Killing Kind, the author's first standalone novel in over a decade. Mystery Scene contributor Robin Agnew caught up with Casey to discuss the new book and new character, London barrister Ingrid Lewis.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: I loved the very specific details of Ingrid’s life as a barrister. Can you talk about how you researched this aspect of her life and made the details and moral conundrums Ingrid faces so realistic?

Jane Casey: My husband is a barrister, which really helped with research (as you might imagine). I feel as if I've been preparing to write this book for the last 20 years! It's a unique job in the criminal justice system, and the people who do it are generally confident, articulate and intelligent, so they make great characters. I have a very good knowledge of day-to-day life for barristers, but in preparing to write this story I also spoke to a number of female barristers at various stages of their careers. I'm always intrigued by how different life can be for men and women doing the same job. With Ingrid, I wanted to create a character who demonstrated the pitfalls they might encounter and the compromises they might make in doing their jobs.

You seem to be fascinated with stalkers. Your character Maeve Kerrigan had a stalker, and in this book, it's the main theme. What makes this topic something you feel compelled to write about?

At one time in my life I was the focus of a lot of unwanted attention from an individual whom I saw very often and couldn’t avoid. It was by no means as severe as any of the stalking I've written about, but it was, in its own way, a frightening experience. I vividly recall the feeling of being utterly helpless and also feeling guilty that I had somehow brought this on myself. I blamed myself for failing to communicate my feelings properly, and it's only with the benefit of hindsight that I understood it wasn't my fault. Loss of control is a huge fear for many women and I think it drives a lot of great crime novels. I feel writers often bring their own experiences to bear on their work, but I also know that with Maeve's stalker I was exploring the idea of writing about it in quite a tentative way. In The Killing Kind I've found the confidence to bring it to the forefront of the story. There’s definitely something therapeutic about turning it into fiction, but I suspect I'll be able to leave it behind from now on.

What made you want to write a standalone? Have you wrapped up the Maeve series, and want to move on, or did this story just call to you?

I don’t want to move on from the Maeve series; I’m fully committed to writing more! Writing a standalone presents a very different and specific challenge and I hadn’t done it for ten years, since my first book, The Missing. I wanted to write about the ideas in The Killing Kind and I didn’t think they could work within my series. It was a little bit daunting to get out of my comfort zone and write something new, but I loved it. I think it’s sometimes hard for new readers to come to a series when there are ten books and a comet’s tail of short fiction there already, so I hope The Killing Kind will be a nice introduction to my writing for readers who haven’t tried my books before.

It seems Ingrid has adapted herself to a system that has moral quagmires that she must navigate. Some of the court scenes are very uncomfortable as Ingrid defends a rapist and a stalker, taking down fellow females as she does so. What were you wanting the reader to think about in these scenes?

I wanted to explore the idea that what we do in our professional lives becomes so familiar to us that we cease to notice the parts that unsettle outsiders. It’s not that we become callous, but we become accustomed to a different set of rules. Ingrid has trained herself to be unthinkingly effective in doing her job, which is to test the prosecution’s case or to challenge a defense. (Barristers can prosecute and defend, and almost all of them do both.) The "cab-rank rule," which applies to all barristers, means that she has to take on whatever work she’s offered, even if it is to defend someone she has personal reservations about, or to prosecute a case she would rather avoid.

The fundamental principle is that everyone deserves a proper defense to ensure that justice is done. Ingrid’s mentor Belinda points out that male barristers don’t worry about whether they are being insufficiently feminist in defending someone accused of rape, and so neither should she, but there are definitely degrees of nuance in how you do the job. Essentially I want readers to think about whether the end justifies the means. If she challenges a witness and proves they were lying, is she doing her job? Is getting to the truth the most important thing in a courtroom? Should we hold her to a different standard, and if so why?

Ultimately Ingrid uses her skill set as a barrister to solve the crime. Can you talk about Ingrid’s investigative journey?

I really wanted Ingrid to be an active presence in the book rather than being the victim who waits to be rescued. She’s bright and analytical and she gathers all of her experience and knowledge to make sense of what happens to her. She’s resourceful and makes use of whatever she has to hand, whether it’s her ability to talk to the police in terms they understand or her stalker’s unique set of talents.

The plot in this book is, if I may say so, genius, the way the parts fit together. Did you work from any kind of timeline as you put together the plot? You go back and forth in time, revealing more of the story as you do so, but as a writer did you start with a straight up timeline that you could refer back to?

That’s very kind! I had a timeline in mind, but I kept it in my head. I could really have done with a wall chart and a lot of Post-it notes! I wrote this book during a very intense period of lockdown when I was living in a tiny, very noisy flat, a house purchase having stalled at just the wrong moment. There was no writing space at all. In retrospect I have no idea how I managed it. I was completely obsessed with it and consumed by managing the different elements of the plot. It drove me a little insane.

What writers have been influential to you?

I started off (like so many crime readers!) with the great Agatha Christie when I was a child. From Golden Age crime I would have to say Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham were huge influences. Mary Stewart wrote the most amazing, beautifully written first-person thrillers in the second half of the 20th century; they are dated now, but I know most of them off by heart.

Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell were my introduction to contemporary crime thrillers along with Minette Walters and Ruth Rendell. And from Scandinavian crime I was hugely influenced by Henning Mankell and the classic Sjöwall/Wahlöö series featuring Martin Beck. Nowadays I rush to read Erin Kelly, Sarah Hilary, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, and Nicci French.

John Connolly was and is a huge figure in Irish crime, as well as being incredibly kind to other writers, so he’s an influence in many ways. Irish crime fiction has developed hugely in the last ten years, and I find myself more and more inspired by writers such as Liz Nugent, Catherine Ryan Howard, and Tana French. I think as writers we respond to books differently depending on where we are on our own creative journey. Reading and rereading is what makes us develop our own voice. None of us can work in total isolation.

Can you name a book that was transformational to you, as a writer or a reader? (It can be Peter Rabbit if that’s the one.)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt was such a heady discovery. I read it when I was a teenager, having heard her interviewed on Irish radio while I was on my way to school one day. I was so intrigued by a crime novel that began with the murder and the killers in plain sight, and by the exquisite writing. I know so many writers who are fascinated by it too: as a book it breaks all the rules of structure and genre, and yet it’s totally enthralling. In a way I’m glad that she hasn’t revisited the same imaginative territory. I have been listening to The Goldfinch on audio, very slowly—I’d read it before, but after my mother died I found I wanted to hear it. I find her writing heartening and inspiring in the best way.

What comes first for you in writing: character, plot, or setting? You seem to excel at all three.

I find that ideas sometimes come in stages and it can be any one of character, plot or setting that arrives first, but until they are all in place the book doesn’t begin to live for me. I generally sit on an idea for a couple of years before I start writing it—I do a lot of work in my head before I ever write anything down, which drives my husband insane in case I forget it! But I find that if a book lives for me I don’t forget any of it. If it’s not a strong enough idea to survive in the back of my mind, it won’t work as a book when I come to write it.

What’s next for you? Another standalone? A new series?

I am currently finishing the next Maeve Kerrigan, which I’m very happy about. I have a choice about what comes after that. It might be the start of a new series or Maeve Kerrigan 11. I’m ready to write both of them. It’s a good problem to have!

Jane Casey has written eleven crime novels for adults and three for teenagers. A former editor, she is married to a criminal barrister who ensures her writing is realistic and as accurate as possible. This authenticity has made her novels international bestsellers and critical successes. The Maeve Kerrigan series has been nominated for many awards: in 2015 Jane won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for The Stranger You Know and Irish Crime Novel of the Year for After the Fire. In 2019, Cruel Acts was chosen as Irish Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. It was a Sunday Times bestseller. Born in Dublin, Jane now lives in southwest London with her husband and two children.