Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Red Road, by Denise Mina

Ms Mina is justly renowned for her gritty and disturbing thrillers (see September 2012 review below) set in the stark confines of the city of Glasgow, and ‘The Red Road’ continues in the same vein:  Detective inspector Alex Morrow is Ms Mina’s White Knight in an unremittingly grey world, and once again she is battling – vainly, it seems, to make a significant wound to the belly of the criminal world of which her brother Danny is a kingpin.  Danny who tricked her, exploiting her yearning for family into ignoring her intuition sufficiently enough to nominate him as her twins’ godfather, yet another layer of respectability he constructs in his attempts to hide his activities from law enforcers: who better to have on your side than a high-ranking policewoman who is also your sister?
DI Morrow’s lot is not a happy one and is further complicated by the puzzling death of a respected lawyer who seemingly collapsed both lungs in a fall;  the resurrection of a 15 year-old murder for which a 14 year-old girl served a prison sentence – defended by the late lawyer;  and yet another murder committed on the same night (the night Princess Diana died) of a teenage boy.  His young brother was found guilty, but information has just surfaced that shows that the evidence and his ‘confession’ were manufactured – by the police.
Yet more killings are uncovered, and with them corruption so deep that Alex feels as if she is drowning in it:  whichever decision she makes will deeply affect innocent people.  If she says nothing and preserves the status quo the villains will continue on their merry way, reaping the rich rewards of their sins, and if she speaks out and exposes Glasgow’s festering underbelly yet again, more baddies are lined up to fill the shoes of those she sends away.
She speaks out.
And reaches her glass ceiling.  Her brother is caught in the net of her investigation, but because of their kinship she is not allowed to claim credit for her skill at catching him along with so many other big fish:  the praise and promotions go elsewhere.  She is forced to conclude – rightly – that she is too good at her job;  too principled, and too na├»ve in believing that there are others of her acquaintance who are of a similar mindset.
And we shall have to wait until the next gripping instalment to find out if Alex’s morals and self-respect remain untarnished, and if she can survive the horrors of her job without being permanently brutalised by it.
As always, Ms Mina poses many more questions in her stories than simply ‘who done what’:  she examines with great skill and insight the human frailties that assail so many of us, and the tipping points reached that turn ordinary folk into sinners.  Highly recommended.

Gods and Beasts, by Denise Mina

Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow is back again in this taut and clever thriller from premier crime writer Denise Mina.  Ms Mina writes of Glasgow and its mean streets and meaner inhabitants with great assurance and skill, drawing the reader effortlessly into Alex’s Jekyll and Hyde world, introducing new characters and giving the existing ones lesser or greater roles as the plot demands.
Brendan Lyons takes his 4 year-old grandson to the post office to buy Christmas stamps;  while they are standing in the queue a gunman bursts through the door to rob the place.  In an act of tremendous bravery, Brendan passes his grandson to the person behind him (‘He’s yours’) then calmly proceeds to help the robber gather the cash, but when that is accomplished, he is shot to death, riddled with bullets by the gunman.  Even more horrifying is the fact that the robber and he knew each other.
Martin Pavel is the young man charged by Brendan with the safekeeping of his precious grandson.  He is a damaged soul, (as are we all) unsure of his place in the world, an inheritor of great wealth but at a loss to know what to do with it:  DS Morrow and her partner Harris are baffled by his presence in Glasgow, and his reluctance to divulge anything about himself;  in fact, the more they delve into Martin and Brendan and his family’s past, the more confusing and labyrinthine the case becomes – especially when the name of a very well-known local politician surfaces in the course of their investigations.  But DS Morrow is nothing if not dogged, determined to weave all the loose threads into a credible pattern that she can believe in. She presses on, only to find that to her horror, information is being withheld – from within:  by her own department.
Ms Mina can evoke atmosphere and construct characters so believable that her word pictures are unforgettable and have the reader, however disquieted by her no-frills prose, calling for more:  However, having stated the obvious, I  have to say that ‘Gods and Beasts’ is a bleak story, as bleak as the Glasgow weather at Christmas time – there are no happy endings, just respite and escape from tragedy for some of the characters, and the exposure of others to the criminal and corrupt underbelly of organisations they had thought unassailable by the gangster element.  It may be the city of Glasgow is so corrupt that it is irredeemable, unable to be saved - or forsaken - ‘by those who live with self-sufficiency outside the city walls –be they Gods or Beasts’:  regardless, by the time the reader reaches the explosive conclusion of this fine story it is clear that  Alex’s problems are just beginning:  regardless, it is a great consolation to know that once again, DS Morrow has won a battle in a long, frustrating and exhausting war.  Highly recommended.

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