The Red Road – Denise Mina @BloodyScotland Build-Up

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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.

Keep The Midnight Out – Alex Gray @BloodyScotland Build-Up

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BLURB: When the body of a red-haired young man is washed up on the shore of the beautiful Isle of Mull, Detective Superintendent Lorimer’s tranquil holiday away from the gritty streets of Glasgow is rudely interrupted. The body has been bound with twine in a PoPghoulishly unnatural position and strongly reminds Lorimer of another murder: a twenty year old Glasgow case that he failed to solve as a newly fledged detective constable and which has haunted him ever since.
As local cop DI Stevie Crozier takes charge of the island murder investigation, Lorimer tries to avoid stepping on her toes. But as the similarities between the young man’s death and his cold case grow more obvious, Lorimer realises that there could be a serial killer on the loose after all these years.
As the action switches dramatically between the Mull murder and the Glasgow cold case twenty years earlier, Lorimer tries desperately to catch a cold-hearted killer. Has someone got away with murder for decades?

I’m doing my best to read as many authors who’re appearing at Bloody Scotland and trying to get the reviews up before I go, and Alex Gray had to be part of the list as: a) she’s one of the founders, along with Lin Anderson (look out for her latest being reviewed next week!); and b) this book is actually set on the island where I was born and brought up, so I’ve been “saving it” to read. I’ve by no means read all of Alex Gray’s DSI Lorimer series, of which this is the twelfth, but I’ve read enough of them over the years to know I’m in safe hands, plot-wise.

If you haven’t met DSI Lorimer and his wife Maggie, who’s a primary school teacher, then welcome to one of the few solid relationships in crime fiction. But there is however the fact that they were unable to have children, Maggie suffering a series of heartbreaking miscarriages. The other main characters, Dr Rosie Fergusson, a pathologist, and Dr Solomon Brightman, a lecturer who helps the police in cases involving profiling if required, met while working cases with Lorimer in the early books. They’re now married with a toddler, Abby, who is Maggie and William’s adored god-daughter.

The book begins with Lorimer, out one morning, noticing seagulls surrounding what appears to be the corpse of a young red-headed man. He’d heard talk of the red-haired boy who’d been working at Kilbeg Country House Hotel and had disappeared after a dance in Tobermory’s Aros Hall, and with few violent or unusual deaths on the island, it doesn’t need a policeman to assume this is the same young man. To Lorimer’s eye, it doesn’t look like a straightforward drowning as the victim had, at some point, been restrained, plus the body had been dumped above the previous night’s tide line. It also puts Lorimer in mind of a case involving another red-headed boy, hog-tied in a similar fashion, 20 years previously when he was just a DC…

The local DI, Stevie Crozier, appears over from Oban to take on the role of Senior Investigating Officer, as Lorimer is on holiday leave (and outwith his area of command.) However, the ambitious, but pragmatic, Crozier realises that Lorimer’s help is crucial, from getting extra resources, to his local knowledge from holidaying here for so long.

Of course, Glasgow being the nearest big city, 100 miles away, it’s Dr Rosie Fergusson who is despatched to do the post mortem. Solomon and Maddy accompany her, ostensibly for a holiday to “Balamory.”

A suspect is identified, but as crime fiction readers know, if it’s too early in the book it’s either the wrong man, or they can’t make the charges stick. Old-fashioned attitudes and misunderstanding and lack of communication almost cause more death. Meanwhile, a possible witness is murdered. There’s a number of interesting local characters who contribute to the storyline and definitely fit into the Mull landscape. Gray gets the Mull accent perfectly (cara-van; post-office) and her love of the beautiful island and its surrounding area, and the incredible amount of animals and birds you can see there, shines from the pages.

Solomon is valued by Lorimer for his psychological insight, and in this case, as ever, he picks his brain, haunted by the images from 20 years ago. There are intriguing flashback sequences to the Lorimers expecting, and losing their first child – and the first, never identified, dead red-haired boy.

Did I guess “whodunit”? (My acid test!) Nope! When I spoke to @AlexinCrimeland here earlier this year, she asked me who I thought was the perpetrator. I was on page 113, but I’d a good guess and revealed my reasoning. All she said was, “Interesting!” Well Alex, you got me!

For fans of: Police procedurals, especially series. The rural setting will appeal to fans of Aline Templeton and Ann Cleeves. Also, Lin Anderson and Caro Ramsay.

Gore factor: Low

I’d like to thank Sphere/Little Brown for the ARC of this book, in return for my honest opinion.