Sunday, February 07, 2021

The Less Dead - Denise Mina

Denise Mina is one of several Scottish crime novelists I keep coming back to after having first discovered her via her three Paddy Meehan novels (2005-2007). Mina is also author of the Garnet Hill trilogy (1998-2001), the five-book Alex Morrow series (2009-2014), four standalone novels, and three plays. She even had a run as writer of the Hellblazer comic books in which she brought the action to Scotland. The Less Dead is one of Mina’s standalones. 




“Fifteen years of our lives, important years but people just want the sad bits or the dirty bits or the Christ-saved-me-bits but not the whole of it, the whole messy truth of it. Just the bits that fit their agenda.”



As The Less Dead opens, Dr. Margo Dunlop is grieving the recent loss of her adoptive mother. Now, part of the grieving process in which Margo is so deeply immersed makes her want to learn more about her birth mother and the family she never knew. What she turns up instead of her mother, though, is Aunt Nikki, a woman whose manner and appearance initially scare Margo half to death about the can of worms she may have inadvertently just opened up. And as it turns out, for good reason.


Margo learns that her nineteen-year-old mother was murdered when she was just four months old, probably by a serial killer believed over a number of years to have claimed multiple victims from the city streets. Particularly vulnerable were women like her mother who sold themselves on the streets in order to support their out-of-control drug habits. Nikki even thinks she knows who the killer is - and she wants Margo to use her medical connections to help her finally prove it. Margo’s first inclination is to make it as difficult as possible for Nikki to ever find her again. But then, something strange starts to happen: the more she talks with Nikki and her friend, the more she admires the women and the strength it took for them to survive those years on the street. She likes them and starts to enjoy their company.


Someone else is watching, though, and they are not happy to see that Margo and Nikki are spending so much time together. When Margo starts to get the same threatening letters that Nikki has been getting for years, she fails to take the threats as seriously as she should, preferring to believe that whoever is writing them just wants to scare her away. Bad move, that.


Bottom Line: The Less Dead is exactly the kind of dark, mean-streets novel that I’ve come to expect from Denise Mina over the years. In this one, Mina builds the suspense level so slowly that when it finally reaches its boiling point, it’s a huge relief to finally get some answers. The reader knows things - important things - throughout the novel that Margo Dunlop doesn’t know, things she refuses to recognize even as the evidence continues to mount. That’s my one criticism of the Margo-character. For a doctor, a woman supposedly sophisticated in the ways of the world, Margo does not have a lot of common sense when it comes to repeatedly putting her life in jeopardy. If The Less Dead were a horror movie, Margo would be the girl everyone keeps yelling at not to open the door or go into the dark room to see what the noise she heard was. In the end it all works, of course, because Margo’s recklessness causes the villain of the piece to expose his identity by doing things he wouldn’t have otherwise done. Three stars for this one.


Denise Mina 

8 comments:

  1. Too Stupid To Live moments, eh? I really don't care for those either, but Denise Mina has been one of my favorites since I picked up the first book in the Garnet Hill trilogy. I was also thrilled to meet her when she visited The Poisoned Pen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She's one of my favorites, too. I've now read two of the three Garnet Hill books and a couple of the Morrow books in addition to two standalones. She's really very good, so it surprised me a little that her main character is so obviously silly in this one. She justifies it by saying a few times that Margo is reckless because her mother believed that once you reach peak-fright, it's time to do whatever you want because you can't get any more afraid than you already are. Not buying that reasoning.

      Delete
  2. LOL. I have a hard time with clueless, ditzy characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margo bumbles her way through it, and finishes strongly. Just like we always knew she would. :-)

      Delete
  3. I have to say, as a woman it really bugs me when a supposedly smart female character acts stupidly and puts her life in danger, not just once, but many times. Really? It's like all those girls in horror movies that can't run from the bad guy without falling down! ;D

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've never read Mina, but I just read something about the Garnet Hill series which made me want to read it. When I looked for the first book at my library, though, they didn't have it. Bummer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Garnet Hill books are really good, but I also love her Paddy Meehan series. You might want to look at those, too, to see what's available.

      Delete