Some quick reads well within my comfort zone this past week.
Denise Mina: Gods and Beasts
In the run-up to Christmas, an elderly man and his grandson are queuing at the post-office in Glasgow, when a gunman bursts in and empties the cash register. The elderly man appears to be helping the gunman and gets shot dead for his pains. But what possible connection can a solid pillar of society have with a criminal and why would he hand his grandson over to a weird-looking stranger in the queue? This is not the only investigation that Alex Morrow has to solve: dodgy politicians and criminal gangs, her own brother with his shady dealings, and corruption within her own department make her wonder if there is any part of Glasgow society that she can trust.
Mina can certainly write: she conveys character with just a few traits of the pen and speech patterns. While this story doesn’t quite reach the emotional depth of the Garnethill or Paddy Meehan trilogies, it’s a great read, with an undercurrent of despair. The corruption of politicians and ongoing criminality of Glasgow are ever-present, but there are some characters that you feel hopeful about, some that you hope will be able to create a new life for themselves.
Booker is a TV scriptwriter, and there is an urgent pace and compulsive storytelling quality to his book which proves that. This is less noir than Mina’s work, more of a ‘read all night’ thriller.
Single mother and journalist Morgan Vine has campaigned for more than four years for the release of her childhood sweetheart Danny Kilcannon from prison. She does not believe he killed his wife and stepdaughter, and when a key witness recants his statement, Danny is freed. But then Morgan’s own teenage daughter goes missing and she no longer knows what to believe.
I couldn’t stop reading this, as I too started to doubt and suspect everybody and everything, just like Morgan. Cleverly constructed and full of suspense, with plenty of dodgy characters and grudges, it is a twisty rollercoaster of a book. My one gripe would be that some of the characters are perhaps a bit sketchy or clichéd and the ending felt a trifle over-elaborate and long.
Not strictly speaking ‘home-grown’, since the author is American, as is her amateur investigator Dorothy Martin, but Dorothy is married to a retired British chief constable and they are visiting Cambridge, so it will pass muster for now. Except that it really is the vision of olde worlde England and traditional college life that Americans want to see, as the recent success of Downton Abbey has proved.
What I did like was that Dorothy and her husband are in their 70s, happily retired but still keeping themselves very active mentally, although they do complain about their knees and joints and bruises. There aren’t many books featuring elderly investigators out there, so this one has to be praised for that fact alone. The storyline, however, was too cosy and twee, too slow and ponderous for my taste. A bloodstain on the floor leads to all sort of speculations, most of them wrong – it just didn’t arouse my curiosity enough.