I started reading Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira series last September, when I was sent a review copy of the second instalment in the series, Tell No Tales, now shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Shortly afterwards I was also sent a review copy of After You Die – book #3 –, but I decided to give it some time before returning to Zigic and Ferreira.
After You Die picks up seven months after Tell No Tales leaves Mel Ferreira injured by an explosion. After surgery, physiotherapy, and too much time at her parents’ house, she is ready to back to work. Meanwhile, Zigic is expecting his third child, this time a girl, with his wife Anna. As each of them face these life changing events, they will do their best to solve the killing of Dawn, a young mother whose disabled daughter was left to die in the first floor of their house, while the mother bled to death in the ground floor.
Dolan has made of socially critic crime fiction her trademark, and she is not afraid to show the dark, twisted side of contemporary society. As a crime fiction reader, I can think of only another female British writer – Sarah Hilary – who does an effort to explore what is wrong in twenty-first century Western society. As a feminist, I have come to realise it is also Dolan and Hilary who make the greatest effort to portray how women are at a special risk in such contexts. After You Die is not an easy read because the author depicts disability from an intersectional point of view, showing that the lack of physical movement is just the tip of the iceberg. Holly, the disabled daughter of the victim, was just sixteen when she broke her back, and Dolan explores how it has affected her life: how everyone assumes sexuality and sexual needs are erased from disabled people, how their dreams are taken with a pinch of salt, how patronising people can be. And how it would affect a teenager girl and her mother.
Motherhood and pregnancy are also important themes, with Zigic’s own worries about heavily pregnant Anna haunting the investigation. Dolan explores what motherhood means for different people, including fostered children. But, she also explores the expectations that come from motherhood, that are ironically very similar to those of disable people: erasing of sexuality and sexual needs, total devotion to the care of a person, lack of physical freedom to go out and have a life outside the house, etc. Although I am aware that motherhood does not mean this to every woman, Western society has built ‘good’ motherhood around sacrifice. So, when Dawn is faced with taking care of Holly and motherhood and disability intersect, we are questioned about our own expectations about them, with Dawn’s right to reconstruct her life after her divorce and after Holly’s accident as she very well pleases. However, not everyone around her seemed to agree, and her personal and intimate life and choices are examined during the investigation, revealing people’s unfair expectations and prejudices about motherhood and female agency and identity.
After You Die is the best novel in the Zigic and Ferreira series until now. A true page-turner, I took my time enjoying the complicated investigation and thinking about the questions Dolan poses to the reader, but I ended up reading the book in a few sittings. Fast-paced, complex, and subversive, After You Die is the perfect example of Dolan’s trademark crime fiction: high quality, challenging, and very, very addictive.
This is review #1 for my 20 Books of Summer project.