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Thursday, 1 August 2013
‘Gods and Beasts’ by Denise Mina
So many crime novels, so little time... Denise Mina’s reputation goes before her, and lack of hours in a day is my only excuse for not having caught up with before now. And having finally done so, I’m not sure I’ve gone the right way about it. Gods and Beasts is the fourth in her Alex Morrow detective series, and another of her series characters, journalist Paddy Meehan, makes a guest appearance. Almost from the start, I had the impression I was coming into an ongoing story part way through, and by the end there was a definite sense that the story would continue.
Not that I’m complaining; the fault is mine for not making time for this accomplished author before now. I’m all in favour of a developing backstory for a series protagonist; not only does it keep readers coming back for more, it also enriches both the narrative and the characters and helps create a realistic backdrop.
Here, as well as Alex Morrow herself, it felt as if several other characters had also been part of an earlier scenario; I don’t know whether or not that’s the case, but that feeling of something ongoing was there whenever they appeared.
As crime writers go, Mina is a class act. I’m a sucker for good writing, and I found myself stopping to admire her turns of phrase and colourful images – but not for long enough to slow the pace of the action. That’s a near-paradox that isn’t easy to achieve. And that sense of not quite being in possession of all the facts about the character relationships and nuances was frustrating enough to make me want to read the other books to catch up, but not enough to be irritating. That’s not easy to pull off either.
The story has several threads, interlinked though sometimes tenuously, each well developed and with its own character set. There’s a murder enquiry, which DS Morrow is heading up; the culmination of a drugs investigation which appears to have dragged on a long time, and which she is also involved in; a politician fighting to keep his grubby secret out of the press; and corruption in the police force itself. I suspect this structure is intended to show the police juggling several cases at once: an aspect of the real-life job which isn’t always apparent in police procedural fiction. Mina pulls it off effortlessly, moving smoothly from one storyline to another without losing the thread of any.
Having finally got around to Denise Mina, I’ll certainly be aiming to catch up with what I’ve missed. And you can’t say fairer than that.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Denise Mina Den was born in Glasgow in 1966. Because of her father's job as an engineer, the family followed the north sea oil boom of the seventies around Europe, moving twenty one times in eighteen years from Paris to the Hague, London, Scotland and Bergen. She left school at sixteen and did a number of poorly paid jobs: working in a meat factory, bar maid, kitchen porter and cook. Eventually she settled in auxiliary nursing for geriatric and terminal care patients. At twenty one she passed exams, got into study Law at Glasgow University and went on to research a PhD thesis at Strathclyde University on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders, teaching criminology and criminal law in the mean time. Misusing her grant she stayed at home and wrote a novel, Garnethill when she was supposed to be researching and writing her thesis. Garnethill won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasy Dagger for the best first crime novel and was the start of a trilogy completed by Exile and Resolution. A fourth novel followed, a stand alone, named Sanctum in the UK and Deception in the US. In 2005 The Field of Blood was published, the first of a series of five books following the career and life of journalist Paddy Meehan from the newsrooms of the early 1980s, through the momentous events of the nineteen nineties. The second in the series was published in 2006, The Dead Hour and the third, The Last Breath in the UK and Slip of the Knife in the US. Still Midnight, the first of the Alex Morrow books was followed by The End of the Wasp Season.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.