Thursday, 19 May 2016

MORE GREAT READS FOR MAY, 2016

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

Detective Inspector Alex Morrow returns after too long an absence (see 2013 review below), dealing still with the myriad problems thrown up by having a brother who is THE kingpin of the Glasgow criminal world, and still operating from prison, where she sent him in one of the hardest life-choices she had to make:  family loyalty or loyalty to justice?
Regardless, she is happy he is off the streets (for a change) even though she has to endure thoughtless remarks from her superiors to the effect that ‘at least he kept all the other crims in order’.  Teeth-grinding and fist-curling stuff but she can concentrate her considerable talents instead on a huge seven million pound scam that is being perpetrated by a Spanish quartet who are clever, but not clever enough to disguise their actions completely: the London Metropolitan Police want Police Scotland’s surveillance assistance as the scammers have transferred themselves to Glasgow;  if they are caught in that city, then Police Scotland can expect a fair dollop of the confiscated seven million pounds for themselves – and the police certainly need cash:  police resources are at their lowest ebb ever;  stations are being closed everywhere and morale is sinking rapidly.  A healthy injection from the Proceeds of Crime would cheer everyone up considerably.
Alex finds surveilling the couple despatched to Glasgow quite relaxing;  she even starts to develop a rapport with Roxanna, gorgeous and fiery girlfriend of the much younger Robin;  whilst not liking their life choices, Alex sees in Roxanna certain good qualities, especially maternal love towards her children that obviously comes before anything else.  She would never desert them, ever, therefore it is extremely worrying when one of her children reports her missing:  this is completely out of character, and Alex starts to fear for her entertaining Spanish con artist.
And rightly so.  Alex’s search for Roxanna takes her away from grim and grubby Glasgow to the beautiful areas of Helensburgh and Loch Lomond, only to find that murder has been committed, and quite professionally, too.
Ms Mina weaves a very tangled tale here:  there are more than the usual amount of sub plots and minor characters and one definitely has to pay as much attention as Alex does to every potentially guilty party – this could be to the story’s detriment in the hands of a lesser writer, but Ms Mina is so adept at mood and characterisation, particularly of local factions in small towns that it is once again a tremendous pleasure to involve oneself with each of her inventions:  shonky lawyers (more than one!);  snobby locals and their polar opposites;  small-time criminals – and their bosses;  and Alex’s various colleagues, those she likes and those she definitely doesn’t:  all as real and recognisable as thee and me, and let us not forget her wastrel brother, who has been attacked in prison (shucks, that’s a surprise!) and is doing the life-and-death hover in hospital.  Denise Mina is still the best, still a babe, still a top chick crime writer:  FIVE STARS!    
      

The Red Road, by Denise Mina

Ms Mina is justly renowned for her gritty and disturbing thrillers 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.  FIVE STARS

Winter, by Marissa Meyer                      Young Adult reading

            Marissa Meyer’s retelling of  Snow White, the final fairy tale of her marvellous quartet of books starting with ‘Cinder’ (see ecstatic 2012 review below) brings to a close one of the best fantasy series I have ever read:  while keeping to the famous, tried-and-true details of the wonderful stories of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, she introduces completely new, futuristic settings and characters that compliment and comment on the age in which we live in such a way that I will never gaze upon the moon again without wondering what is REALLY Up There.
            Snow White has been transformed into Princess Winter, hated stepdaughter of Lunar Queen Levana – hated for her peerless beauty, her loving kindness, and her effortless ability to melt the hearts of everyone around her, qualities that are entirely lacking in Levana, despite her own gift of presenting herself as drop-dead gorgeous, not to mention a just and merciful ruler.  The truth, naturally, is exactly the opposite:  Levana’s subjects, especially in the outer regions, live in slavery and poverty, barely existing in the mines and forests created to bring wealth into Artemisia, the capital.   She and her allies, a band of wizards called thaumaturges, control everything and she will tolerate no-one who would undermine her power.  Winter’s days are numbered.  Except for her one ally, her childhood friend Jacin who is now a senior palace guard, and charged with ‘keeping her safe’ – which he does, for he loves her and would protect her with his life if need be, and that time comes sooner than expected, when Levana gives him the fatal order to dispose of his beloved Winter.
            Enter Cinder, now an Outlaw and ready to start a revolution, Red Riding Hood (Red for short) formerly an imprisoned pet in Winter’s menagerie, and Cress (alias Rapunzel), all intent on rescuing the enslaved subjects of Luna from Levana’s madness and cruelty.  They are assisted by various stout-hearted, personable allies;  Carswell Thorne, criminal but charming Ace spaceship pilot, enamoured of Cress but silent on the subject;  Emperor Kaito, Cinder’s own Prince Charming, and Wolf – the Big Bad one, madly in love with Red.  Yep, the gang's all here, and I’m sure you’ll all agree that reading every book of the series is a must, so that all the backstories are properly explained.  Will the Lunar uprising started by Cinder be successful?  Will all these wonderful recreated characters live happily ever after, in the best tradition of all beloved fairy tales?  Read the books, see the movies.  FIVE STARS    


Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (Young adult reading)

How lucky am I that one of our clever librarians recommended that I read this book:  what a favour she did me, what a break, WHAT A STORY!    
The tale of Cinderella – yep, Cinderella, her nasty stepmum and the two stepsisters – is transferred hundreds of years into the future.  Cinderella is now Cinder, living in New Beijing with a family who are, to say the least, most reluctant guardians.  She is a mechanic (truly!) and a Cyborg, to her shame, having been fitted out with a steel hand, leg and inbuilt computer screen after a terrible childhood accident.  Cyborgs are the future’s Untouchables, considered fit only to perform the most menial and degrading of tasks, but Cinder is such a good mechanic that a Royal prince visits her to have his tutor android repaired, and after that visit she and the reader are lost:  she to alien romantic impulses (she is not programmed for this!) and a reluctant involvement in a life and death experiment -  and the reader to being nailed to one spot until they have reached the last page.

To add insult to injury, the hapless reader finds that after a thrilling journey at a breakneck pace through more clever plot twists than a pretzel, (we all go to the ball, but Cinder loses her cyborg foot, not her slipper!)  there are three more books to come – and they haven’t been written yet!  To say I feel cheated is an understatement and the withdrawal symptoms are dire, but I also say with complete confidence that ‘Cinder’ will be the next big Blockbuster book/movie series:  you read it here first.

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