Denise Mina is one of those authors whose name is brandied around the highest echelons of crime fiction, so it was only a matter of time before I settled into one of her mysteries. GODS AND BEASTS, the third novel in the Detective Alex Morrow series, set in Glasgow, and lauded for its distinct lack of clichés and exploration of “real cops and real criminals,” and in this one, Morrow investigates the robbery of a post office by AK-47 wielding gunman, during which a bystander grandfather hands his grandson over to a stranger and then helps the robber collect his loot, before being shot and killed. What’s their connection?
The narrative splits into four separate, but ultimately linked narratives: the police investigation; the impact the event had on the enigmatic stranger who protected the grandson during the robbery, and on the family who suffered the loss; the decision by two police officers under Morrow’s command who take a bag of money which they find in a drug dealer’s car, only to find themselves almost immediately blackmailed for it; and the plotline that feels most unconnected, the decision by a left-wing politician, Kenny Gallagher, to sue a newspaper for defamation over a story about an alleged affair with a young intern, in order to save his flailing marriage and keep his family unit together for the sake of his political career – even though the allegation is true.
GODS AND BEASTS is a masterful example of a writer excelling at her craft. Mina shifts between these narratives with ease, delving into the different levels of Glaswegian society, unravelling the overall plot piece by piece, chapter by chapter, gradually bringing these four contesting stories together in a satisfactory conclusion. The dramatic beats feel earned, and are genuinely surprising; particularly the novel’s major twist, which would’ve taken the breath away from long-time readers, provided a genuine shock; for me, this being my first, the impact was lessened, but still appreciated.
Critics rave about Mina’s penchant for avoiding the genre’s clichés – no maverick cops; no surly, heavy-drinking detectives; no vitriolic villains – and while this is to be applauded, I found Morrow a rather bland protagonist. She’s certainly a realistic portrayal of a current-day investigator, struggling to balance family and work commitments; maybe I’ve been spoiled by the nomadic Reacher’s of this world, the rebellious Rebus’s, the haunted Bosch’s . . . or perhaps I’ve fallen into a pit of fiction tropes I can’t climb out of. Still, as an introduction to Mina’s prose, GODS AND BEAST has enticed me to check out more of her work.
Reviewed by Simon McDonald | firstname.lastname@example.org