Monday, April 12, 2010

Still Midnight

I have to admit that, because I have been a fan of Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan and Garnethill books for a while now, I began Still Midnight with high expectations. I also have to admit that the book was a bit of a disappointment to me – in some part, probably, because I did expect so much from it going in.

Denise Mina’s Glasgow has always been a dark and dangerous city but she has outdone herself this time. This Glasgow is a wet, cold city surrounded by swampy grounds and abandoned buildings and filled with some of the unhappiest people in the world.

Her story begins when two rather incompetent thugs invade a family home in search of a young man they are being paid to kidnap. Things begin to go bad for Eddy and Pat almost from the moment they enter the home to find that none of its residents have even heard of the man they want. After the would-be kidnappers, armed with handguns neither man has ever fired before, accidentally shoot a teenage girl, they settle for snatching the girl’s father in place of their intended victim and flee the home in near-panic.

At the crime scene, DS Alex Morrow, of the Strathclyde CID, senses this is more than a case of two incompetent criminals banging on the wrong door. The kidnap victim is Aamir Anwar, patriarch of the large family living under his roof: wife, teenage daughter, and two sons (one a recent university graduate and the other whose own wife and baby share a bedroom with him). Morrow senses that the younger son and his friend know more about the crime than they are admitting and she begins her investigation by interrogating the two at police headquarters.

Alex Morrow is stunned that same night to learn that what should have been her investigation is, instead, being given to her less competent departmental rival, Grant Bannerman, a man hand-picked to move up the ranks ahead of her. Sexism is alive and well in the ranks of the Strathclyde CID. Alex has no intention of being a team player but still manages to contribute most of the breaks in the investigation. The reader will have to decide whether she is rewarded for her efforts - or not.

Still Midnight is long on atmosphere - and that is a strong point of the book. Mina takes it so far this time, however, that it is also one of the book’s weaknesses. There are simply no happy or content people in this book. Criminals are as unhappy with their lot as their victims; polis are backstabbing cutthroats or burned out zombies; husbands and wives are sick of each other; businessmen hate their customers, and children hate their fathers. Even the kidnap victim is sick of himself.

Despite the violence, and ever present potential for more, it is at times difficult to take the Still Midnight as seriously as it is meant to be taken because of the comic nature of Eddy, its chief villain. Eddy is such a bumbler that most readers will wonder how the man survived the mean streets of Glasgow long enough to reach adulthood. He is almost a parody of a real criminal. The novel’s ending, one I will not spoil here, is also such a stretch that it provides a jarring contrast to the rest of the book. This one does not quite work for me because it never quite feels real.

Rated at: 3.0

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