The Red Road – Denise Mina @BloodyScotland Build-Up

Product Details

BLURB: Power, abuse, love gone horribly wrong – and a crime that stretches back two decades…

A girl who has seen more darkness than most.

A Scottish lawyer waiting to be killed.

A fingerprint discovered at a murder scene, from a man who couldn’t possibly have been there.

As DI Alex Morrow investigates the death of a young businessman, she uncovers a vicious network of power and corruption that reaches back to Glasgow on the night Princess Diana died. And to a fourteen-year-old girl sat in a car with a dead body, the murder weapon still in her hand.

I found this book really compelling, especially given the main subject matter – the dreadful prospects for children brought up in care. It encompasses a 20-year conspiracy and demonstrates how much power some people wield.

When Rose Wilson, whose been dealt a rotten deck in life – witnessing her mother’s murder; her five younger siblings, separated and adopted; herself living in a children’s home at 14 – is shown the slightest bit of affection, she clings to it. “Sammy the Perv” befriends her and is soon pimping her out at parties to older and powerful men. When Rose stabs him to death, on the night Diana died (a night everyone remembers where they were) she calmly waits for the cops. She’s assigned a lawyer, Julius McMillan, who promises her he’ll get her off with as light a sentence as possible, that he’ll visit, and be waiting for when she’s released. He keeps his word, giving her the job of nanny to his son’s three children, his daughter-in-law Francine being unwell – but is he being truly altruistic? Or does he too see something in Rose that could be useful?

Fast forward 20 years and DI Alex Morrow is wrapping up a case involving Michael Brown, an unpleasant guy who was sentenced to life for murdering his brother Michael (“Pinkie” – on whom Rose had a crush) – coincidentally, also the night Diana died. They too were care home kids, and knew Rose, who lived in another home close by. Currently out on licence, Brown has been caught with guns buried in his garden, a million pounds in cash, and 40 iPhones in his house with receipts taped to them. To Morrow and her team, this reeks of a Pakistani “hundi” operation, an informal way of moving money from country to country. It’s done for innocent reasons, like when family members don’t have bank accounts, but it is also a highly effective way of moving illicit funds – mostly for heroin. She knows Michael Brown will have his licence revoked and return to prison for a very long time – until she gets a phone call saying fingerprints matching Brown’s were found at the scene of a murder the previous week. It is that of Aziz Balfour, a charity fundraiser for earthquake relief in Pakistan. When several checks reveal they are in fact a match to Brown’s dabs, and could not possibly have been planted there, Morrow is left with a mess to clear up – it looks as though Brown suffered a miscarriage of justice, and should never have ended up in prison. Possibly he would not be in the extremely sticky situation he’s now in, had he not been to the college of crime, where he learned all the scams from fellow cons. It also means that Pinkie Brown’s murderer is still out there, and still active – 20 years on. A third victim, though, has time to point Morrow in the right direction…

Meanwhile, Robert McMillan, Julius’ son, who’s like a brother to Rose – despite the fact he always felt his father favoured her – has discovered his father’s secrets, revealed on his death bed. However, confused, it seems like McMillan Sr thought it was in fact Rose he was talking to (his funeral takes place in the opening pages of the book, “Rose saw the funeral cars skulk back into the stream of traffic, panthers returning to the hunt.”) This leads to him discovering his father’s secrets. He does what his conscience tells him is the right thing to do, then disappears immediately to the Isle Of Mull to hide and await his fate (in beautiful Calgary Castle, with the famous beach below – I had to tweet Denise to check I was right!) He is aware his actions will cost him his life. And the man who’s tasked with organising the elimination of Robert MacMillan may surprise you…

Denise Mina books generally aren’t too gruesome, and although there are a number of deaths throughout the course of the book, this is more about figuring out the lies and corruption that’s gone on over the years, and who’s on the side of the angels (not many!) It’s highly topical too, involving care homes, long term conspiracies, and abuse by members of the highest echelons of (Scottish) society – men meant to be pillars of the earth. Sound familiar?

From Lord Anton Atholl QC (with whom Morrow has a slight flirtation…), to guys like Michael Brown, hardened from years in prison, to Dawood McMann, mover, shaker and all-round dodgy character, to Rose – still not fully accepted into the McMillan clan by matriarch Margery – Mina’s characters are always pitch-perfect. Her ability to write how Glaswegians of every social strata speak is unmatched, and this authenticity, which has always been in her work – through the Garnethill and Paddy Meehan series –  is what will always have me coming back for more. I’ll leave you to find out how everything pans out, but in this novel there are no winners.

The follow-up to this book, Blood Salt Water, is available in the UK from September 2nd in hardback and now on e-book formats.

For fans of: Caro Ramsay, Catriona McPherson, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney

Own copy.

18 thoughts on “The Red Road – Denise Mina @BloodyScotland Build-Up

  1. Very glad you enjoyed this, Crimeworm. Mina has a way of telling sometimes very sad, unsettling stories without being so off-putting about it that you stop reading. She draws you in and makes you want to know the story. And I have to say I do like the complicated characters she creates. Quite a skilled writer in my opinion.


  2. Definitely one of my favourite authors. She also manages to squeeze in a smidgen of humour, usually with irony, misunderstanding, or a character who’s quite amusing (Paddy Meehan’s fanatically Roman Catholic mother springs to mind, with her holy water at the door, the priest coming for tea, and novenas!)
    It’s interesting that one of the things I like about it is the Glasgow setting, and way of speaking, but these things still work for you without that familiarity (I love reading about LA, despite having never been!) She really is one of our best crime authors. And you must try Caro Ramsay, if she’s available over there, and Catriona McPherson’s standalones, which definitely are.


  3. Rebecca, see my reply to Christine. It wasn’t even a Bank Holiday weekend in Scotland! 😦 If you find any extra hours hidden anywhere, let me know! Great to see you Rebecca, as ever! Hope you’re good!


    • It’s because he did something to really annoy some very bad and powerful men (who are very close to his family) and he knows they can’t allow him to live knowing what he now does. He’s so naive; the whole thing had been going on for years and he had no idea. And he wants his children kept out of it. So he’s playing the martyr (he’s a bit of a wimp, tbh.) If it weren’t for his father’s death he’d probably have still been oblivious – a bit “glaikit”, as we’d say in Scotland!


  4. Now this is an author on my list of ‘I really must read’ I have one book on my kindle I know and she gets such good reviews… I need more time!! This is a great review that just makes me want to sample her work even more. Plus I seem to be heavy on the Irish fiction at the moment, I ought to balance it out a bit. 😉


      • I checked and I actually have two (both purchased in August 2011 – so not so fast really!!) The Field of Blood and The End of the Wasp Season (book 2 in the Alex Morrow series) so the latter one was silly and just goes to show I have actually always been awful at reading series books in sequence!!


      • Ooh, Christine at Northern Crime wouldn’t approve of reading series out of order. The Field Of Blood (Paddy Meehan no.1) is really good; it’s about a trainee journalist in the 80s, who gets mixed up in a criminal investigation. It was on TV a couple of years ago.


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