After You Die is a departure from Dolan’s previous Zigic and Ferreira novels, Long Way Home and Tell No Tales, in three senses: one, for the first time, the dead bodies belong to two females; two, the women aren’t immigrants; three, there’s more of a focus on Zigic and Ferreira themselves and a sense that their stories are as much a part of the text as those potentially involved in the case.
The dead bodies are Dawn Prentice, brutally stabbed in her own kitchen, and her disabled daughter, Holly, who’s been left to die in an upstairs bedroom, incapable of leaving her bed to raise the call for help. The case has gone to the Hate Crimes Department because Dawn had previously reported some harassment after Holly returned from hospital following a climbing accident that left her spinal cord severed. Initially the harassment consisted of silent ’phone calls and vandalism in the garden.
‘She got a modified people carrier to take Holly out in. It was on the drive for a day before the tyres were slashed.’ Ferreira frowned. ‘Someone sprayed the word “cripple” across the side of it.’
Initially, there seems to be two main suspects – Dawn’s estranged husband and Holly’s father, Warren, who, unable to cope with the consequences of Holly’s accident has moved in with Sally, the woman who owns the local kennels and her teenage son, Benjamin, who’s a complete charmer. When Sally tells him Dawn and Holly are dead his response is:
‘Murdered, ‘ Zigic said.
Sally frowned at him. ‘There’s no need for that sort of language.’
He shrugged, attention on Zigic now, curious rather than shocked, and Zigic wondered if his lack of emotional response was the usual adolescent attempt at worldliness or something darker.
‘Were they raped?’
‘Benjamin!’ Sally turned to Zigic and apologised. Back to her son. ‘What a disgusting thing to say.’
He held his hand up. ‘I was only asking. Jesus. It’s what happens, isn’t it? That’s why women usually get killed.’
Dolan uses Dawn’s death partly to expose misogynistic attitudes to women. This is foregrounded when Zigic and Ferreira discover that she’s been using dating sites to meet men for sex and they need to interview all those she’s seen recently. Dolan avoids slut-shaming Dawn by writing about her sexual encounters without judgement.
The other key suspect is ten-year-old, Nathan. He’s being fostered by Dawn’s best friend, Julia, but disappeared not long before the bodies were found. Julia and her husband, Matthew, disagree about whether to inform the police of Nathan’s disappearance:
‘He was round there all the time, we’ve no idea what was going on between them.’
Julia scowled at him. ‘You read his case file, there’s nothing to suggest that he’s dangerous or violent. My God, Matthew, do you think I wouldn’t see it if he was?’
She knew Nathan was a good, kind boy and she’d promised to look after him. She’d failed him once, she wouldn’t do it again.
When Zigic and Ferreira do find out about Nathan’s disappearance, Zigic comes up against a section of the police force he’s not had reason to deal with before. It’s one he’s not so keen on either.
After You Die is another gripping crime novel from Eva Dolan, but more than that, it’s an examination of attitudes towards women and to children in care. Dolan is sympathetic towards both, using not only Dawn and Holly’s deaths to show real women and people’s attitudes towards them – including internet harassment – but also Ferreira dealing with her injuries from the end of Tell No Tales. The shrapnel still embedded in her legs has curbed her sex life due to her awareness of how society will view her now – ‘she was flawed now and women weren’t allowed to be’. And then there’s Zigic’s wife, Anna, pregnant with their third child and Julia, Dawn’s best friend, 28 weeks’ preganant. Again, Dolan doesn’t treat these women as though they should be wrapped in gossamer, but to comment on attitudes towards them.
The children in care – Nathan and Julia and Matthew’s long term foster child, Caitlin – are shown to be more than their case files and a level of understanding of how challenging life can be for people in a variety of circumstances is given.
After You Die is my favourite of Dolan’s novels so far. Bring on the next one!
Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.