Day 505: The Red Road

Cover for The Red RoadIt is 1997. Young Rose Wilson is waiting for her pimp Sammie one night when Pinkie Brown, a young man she knows, asks her to hide a knife for him. Although she has had a crush on him, she suddenly understands he is attempting to use her. She tries to push him away and ends up accidentally stabbing him to death. Terrified about what Sammie will do to her, she attempts to hide from him that she is covered in blood as they drive away from the area. But he finally sees the blood, so she attacks him in panic, killing him. Then she realizes she has nowhere to go and no way to hide her crime, so she sits in the car and waits for the police.

In the present time, Detective Inspector Alex Morrow is set to testify against Michael Brown. He was found guilty years ago of the murder of his older brother Pinkie. Now he is up on weapons charges, as caches of guns with his fingerprints on them were found buried in his back yard. But Alex soon learns something puzzling. Brown’s fingerprints were found at the scene of a murder that happened three days before in an abandoned building on the Red Road, when Brown was in custody. Although Alex is inclined to believe this is some ploy by Brown’s defense, Anton Atholl, she can’t figure out what they have to gain from it. In any case, court is dismissed because of news of the death of another defense attorney, Julius McMillan.

Back in the past, it is Julius McMillan who saves Rose. After Rose admits everything she did, he figures out a way for her to serve minimal time for Sammie’s death, as long as no one connects her to the killing of Pinkie Brown. To save her, he is forced to make a deal with some powerful but unscrupulous men.

Alex’s investigation is taking some unexpected detours, and eventually she figures out that there was a conspiracy to pin Pinkie’s murder on Michael years ago. Michael’s fingerprints were switched for those of the real murderer, who has just killed again. Although Alex begins to realize she will be up against some powerful people, she just can’t let something like that go.

Denise Mina’s mysteries are set in a gritty Glasgow. Alex is an abrasive and stubborn heroine whose career keeps being dead-ended because she insists on going up against corrupt politicians and police. The novels are smart and interesting, with convincingly drawn characters.

Day 377: Gods and Beasts

Cover for Gods and BeastsMartin Pavel is standing behind an old man and a child in the post office waiting to mail Christmas packages when a gunman comes in. The old man pushes the little boy toward Martin and behaves as if he knows the gunman. The gunman forces the old man to assist him in the robbery and then shoots him.

Things are going better for DS Alex Morrow than they have in awhile. She finally admitted her relationship with her criminal half-brother Danny Boyle to her supervisors and has been investigated and cleared of any suspicion of wrong-doing. She also gave birth to twins four months ago and is happy in her marriage. Her habitual anger has stopped simmering below the surface.

Morrow’s team is surprised to find no ties to crime on the part of the victim, Brendan Lyon, a former union organizer. The tattooed Pavel turns out to be a wealthy do-gooder. The police are having a hard time figuring out how Lyon could have known the gunman.

In a parallel story that seems unrelated until the very end of the novel, labor leader Kenny Gallagher, a rock star in politics, can feel the support of his constituency ebbing. His leadership is being challenged, he is being accused of improprieties with a young party member, and his wife wants a divorce.

Alex soon finds that two officers on her team were lured into taking a bribe, and then a third has a sack of cash thrown into his car. As she investigates these incidents, she begins to uncover a web of corruption.

On the home front, she is tentatively exploring normal family relations with Danny. He says he’s retiring from crime, but is he?

I discovered Denise Mina’s gritty crime novels shortly after the publication of her first book. They are unfailingly excellent, with gripping plots, complex characters, and complicated moral dilemmas. Mina’s writing is spare and elegant. You can’t go wrong with her if you have a taste for dark, dramatic crime novels.

Day 268: Still Midnight

Cover for Still MidnightWhen I first started reading this crime novel, I had the feeling it would end badly. However, although it is very complex, it ties up loose ends in a satisfying way.

Alex Morrow is a bitter Glasgow cop who feels she has to compete with her male colleagues, especially with Bannerman, who is favored by her boss. It is her turn to take the next big case, but when an elderly Ugandan man is abducted from his home, the boss gives the case to Bannerman.

We follow the inept, amateurish kidnappers, who have smashed their way into the house demanding a person who has never lived there or been inside. On the other hand, we watch Morrow’s attempts to work on the case without letting Bannerman take the credit for all her breakthroughs.

I have long been a fan of Denise Mina, who has written several gritty series providing us fascinating glimpses of a grim urban Scotland.

Day 35: The End of the Wasp Season

Cover of End of the Wasp Season I have long been a fan of Denise Mina’s gritty mysteries, set in Glasgow. The End of the Wasp Season begins with two seemingly unrelated deaths: in Strathclyde, a crooked ex-millionaire banker named Lars Anderson commits suicide, and a young woman, Sarah Errol, is brutally murdered in a Glasgow suburb. Sarah was home temporarily taking care of her mother’s estate, and the wealthy suburban neighborhood is terrified by the seemingly random attack by hoodlums.

We know from the beginning that Sarah Errol was killed by two boys, but we don’t know exactly what happened or why.

As Detective Inspector Alex Morrow investigates, she runs into an old friend, the murdered woman’s housekeeper. Later Morrow’s friend Kay is accused of stealing from the dead woman’s estate. Kay’s teenaged boys are then arrested for the murder. Alex is convinced that her friend and the boys are innocent and tries to prevent a travesty.

DCI Morrow finds that one of the boys who broke into the home was the son of Lars Anderson, and that he mistakenly believed Sarah was his father’s mistress. As DCI Morrow investigates, she finds out about the boy’s horrible home life. Eventually we are lead to believe that the boys broke into Sarah’s house to scare her, and that the Anderson’s son stood there in horror and watched his companion go berserk. But the evidence is confusing.

I have been impressed by Mina’s work since I read the Garnethill series, her first three books. Her books feature strong women from working class backgrounds and criminal families who are trying to make their way on the right side of the law. Alex herself has a stepbrother who is a crime kingpin, from whom she has been trying to keep her distance.