Thursday, 8 August 2013

Denise, Denise

I have a new girl, crime, author crush. Denise Mina.

If you think you don't like crime fiction, or particularly if you think you don't like crime fiction, then do yourself a favour and read Still Midnight. Or any one of her 10 novels for that matter.

If you need convincing, the how about this? Mina has won the prestigious Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award for the last two years running for the second and third instalment of her Alex Morrow series. She is also the writer behind Field of Blood which is screening tonight, no less, on BBC1.

Still Midnight is the first of her novels to feature DS Alex Morrow, a tough cop with a complicated personal life, who is called in to deal with the kidnapping of a seemingly unimportant shopkeeper. As procedurals go, it's a tight, well paced, nuanced read, but what raises it above and beyond the level of most crime fiction is the characterisation and sheer strength and, often, beauty of the writing.
Take this description of a shop counter:

'Behind it sat two high stools, still angled in to one another, as if duettists had just left the stage'

Or this description of DS Morrow:

'...wherever she was, whatever was going on in the gentle heave and sway of office politics, all she really cared about in the world was gone. McKechnie could sense that dark belligerent void and he knew that he couldn't touch her.'

Yes, Morrow has one of the standard crime detective tropes - a painful secret in her past - yet, rather than set it out at the start of the novel as an explanation for Morrow's actions, the reader doesn't hear about it until more than half way through the novel and even then, details are scant. Well chosen. Tempting.
An attention to detail and a believability in the world and the people of the novel mean that even the most  ludicrous seeming event takes on a mundanity and normality, each character an ordinariness and a recognisable quality that makes this novel more than a page turner. It is a page turner, don't get me wrong, but you won't want to rush through to the big reveal, you will want to savour each beautifully written chapter. Mina has been dubbed the Queen of Tartan Noir and that title does her a disservice. While the landscape of modern Glasgow is rendered with subtle social commentary and dank atmospherics, the novel could be happening anywhere in the UK today.

And the even better news? She's written 10 books! So now I get to check them all out. I love it when that happens.

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