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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Still Midnight. Denise Mina. Orion Books (2014)

A gripping and very engaging hard boiled Scottish crime story. Two armed men break into a family home demanding to speak to someone no-one knows. After a violent outburst, they kidnap the father and depart demanding a huge ransom. Detective Sargent Alex Morrow hopes to be given the high profile case and is bitterly disappointed to be given a subordinate role in the investigation. The investigation gets underway with barely contained personal animosity within its ranks and the kidnappers manage their
situation with an excess of bad tempered stupidity. The two threads of the story unwind tightly and slowly the connections are made and lead to a satisfying bitter and unexpected climax.
The plot mechanics are superb, the reveals are very well staged and the twists and turns of the story are clever, they ratchet up the tensions steadily and effectively. The story threads are carefully managed so that they cross and unwind with maximum impact and force.
The deep joy of this very bitter brew is the cast, Denise Mina has collected an amazingly diverse selection of deeply unpleasant and deeply hurt characters and they are all  demanding the reader attention with their vigor, anger and recognisable humanity. Alex Morrow is extraordinary, a searingly bitter and angry woman who is barely able to control the tumult that is writhing inside her. Angry at unfairly denied the chance to lead the case, she works with, against, and along side the officer who was given the lead, her moods and actions moving and changing as events move and change. Struggling to gain control of a case where she has lost it in her life she finds that the investigation is going into directions she really does not want  to be involved in. Denise Mina has managed a magnificent piece of writing with Alex Morrow, slowly the full extent of her circumstances is revealed and the roots of her anger become clear. In a shattering moment she is forced to see the price she is making someone else pay and instead of this undermining her, Denise Mina allows it to be a moment of release that confirms her depth and strength. That this is an unusual moment for a female character s a bit depressing, that it is managed with such confident skill is a pleasure.
The rest of the major cast are all given time care and attention to fully display their various shortcomings, they are caught up in a series of events that very quickly run out of their already very limited control. Each is given the chance to establish themselves and to act, their actions reveal them ever more deeply as the reader is draw into a somewhat unwilling sympathy with them as they become so firmly established.
The astonishing risk that Denise Mina takes with two of the cast that moves from absurd and sad fantasy to a credible and unexpected reality pays off with an genuinely astounding turn that wonderfully defies reader expectations. Deeply hidden in the hard boiled story that Denise Mins creates so skillfully is a generous heart that lifts the story up and makes it shine from the brutality of its plot and context. This is an extremely hard process to get right, one element should undermine the other, instead the skill and writing depth that Dense Mina brings to the book makes it lift off. A brilliant book, a gripping crime story and a sharp reminder that people are a collection of contradictions that are all fighting within each other all the time. A rich pleasure. 

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