Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow finds her career in the police force on hold when her boss accuses her of lacking sensitivity when dealing with Asians. Certainly Alex sometimes speaks before she thinks, and has a volatility that is never far from the surface (particularly regarding the way the force treats its female officers), but the accusation is unjust. A Pakistani family in Glasgow has been terrified by two brutal white men invading their home, attempting to extort millions of pounds. The invaders ignore protestations that they have broken into the wrong home (they are looking for someone called ‘Bob’). Finally, they leave, taking with them an elderly member of the family as hostage. Alex Morrow, despite her demotion, works on the case – and she finds that nothing adds up. What’s more, her investigations are in danger of being compromised by keeping secret a criminal brother.
Denise Mina bagged the John Creasey Best First Crime Novel prize for her blistering debut Garnethill (1998), but many a promising career has withered on the vine – and it was a relief when Exile (2000) maintained her career trajectory. The Glasgow setting of that book was rendered with a gritty authority rare in modern fiction – and those of us who’ve been avidly consuming each successive Mina novel will have no problem with the fact that we’re back on those Glaswegian mean streets with Still Midnight (who cares if Caledonian crime writers such as Mina and Ian Rankin bait the Scottish Tourist Board by presenting their country as an edgy, threatening place?).
Here, Mina shakes the tired format of the thriller till all the clichés come shaking out like loose nails. Her conflicted protagonist Alex Morrow is always dealing with her own problems along with her professional ones – a tactic that canny writers know is essential to lift a book above the exigencies of the police procedural.
The narrative here is inspired by a real-life kidnapping, but Mina parleys this into something richer and stranger than the real case, taking on board politics, racism and a prickly but basically sympathetic community. The final effect of Still Midnight is both unsettling and exhilarating, but there’s a nagging question prompted by the much-ploughed furrow of Mina’s locales: do we all need a vacation by now from Scottish mayhem? Not as long as Denise Mina and Co. continue to produce novels as ferociously gripping as this.
Still Midnight by Denise Mina
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