Review: Still Midnight by Denise Mina

Denise Mina’s Garnethill was one of my ten best reads of last year so, even though I haven’t finished that series yet, I was keen to read her latest adult fiction.

In suburban Glasgow one Sunday evening two men break into the house of a seemingly ordinary family and terrorise them at gun point. After demanding an enormous ransom and making a few serious blunders the men escape, taking one of the family members with them until the ransom is paid. Things continue not to go smoothly for the hapless criminals who take their kidnap victim, who they refer to as ‘the pillowcase’, to a hastily arranged hideout. Alex Morrow is the DS from Strathclyde Police who should be assigned the case but, due to the sensitivity of the case, she has to work under the direction of another DS, a fact she struggles with throughout the book as the team try to work out if the family, which doesn’t appear to be wealthy, was targeted in error.

The thing I liked most about this book was the portrayal of the family at the centre of the kidnapping. Each member of the family is given their own thread and we are shown, quite beautifully, how they all diverge from the stereotypes which are hinted at in the beginning of the story. During the boring bits of the book, and sadly there were quite a few of those, I found myself wishing we were back with one or other member of the family and finding out something interesting about their personal stories.

The character of Alex Morrow is also well drawn and, although I didn’t particularly like her I was engaged by her character most of the time. I must admit though that her never-ending obsession with who was doing her wrong on the office political scene became tedious for me. Towards the end of the story some personal revelations about Morrow go part way to explaining her perpetually rude behaviour but it wasn’t just her colleagues who had to put up with her crude language and angry, immature outbursts for much of the book. However, she is clever, her connections with the local community are used to full advantage and her complexity did generate suspense for the otherwise fairly slow story.

The really tiresome aspect of the book for me was the time we spend with the crew of morons that had ‘planned’ the kidnapping. It’s not that I mind getting to know people on the wrong side of the law but these people were all living separate, highly improbable fantasies that were of limited interest to me. Apart from the two gunmen, one of whom sees himself as some kind of action man while the other one believes himself in love with the young daughter of the family he terrorised, we have the junkie driver, probably the best of a bad lot, and the man wh0 organised the hideout who is so befuddled by alcohol that he is unaware of his own incontinence (the effects of which are described at great length and repeatedly).  There’s a limit to the amount of time I’d want to spend in the company of these particular people and we passed it at about hour six of the audio book.

One of the words most often used to describe Denise Mina’s writing is ‘gritty’. In the case of Still Midnight I would agree that the world in which the book is set is gritty and not just for the criminals because the police here don’t have a lot in common with their comrades in flashy American TV shows. Their technology is out of date, their resources are few and they are perpetually tired which I suspect is a lot closer to the real world than what I see on CSI Miami. But this gritty realism was at odds with the fantasy-like ending of the book and the resolution to one thread in particular had me gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes. As if.

Still Midnight displays Mina’s dark humour, there are several genuinely laugh out loud moments which are quite politically incorrect and all the better for that, and skill at creating interesting characters. For me it wasn’t as tightly paced as I would have liked and I had some credibility issues with parts of the book but even when she’s not at the top of her game Mina is still pretty darned good and I did thoroughly enjoy the very Scottish narration from Katy Anderson.

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My rating 3.5/5

Publisher: ISIS Audio Books [this edition 2010, original edition 2009]  ISBN: N/A; Length 13 hours 13 minutes.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Still Midnight has also been reviewed by Maxine at Petrona (who I seem to agree with, again) and Glen at International Noir Fiction

This entry was posted in Audio Book Challenge 2010, book review, Denise Mina, Scotland. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Review: Still Midnight by Denise Mina

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this fine review. I haven’t read this one, although I enjoyed Garnethill very much. I agree with you, though, about how important credibility is. When it’s not there, even a good writer’s work slips. Still, this sounds engaging, and it’s not easy to integrate humor into this kind of novel.

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  2. Maxine says:

    What a great review, Bernadette! Yes, we seem to agree, again. Somehow this book seemed a little contrived to me, as if the author was trying too hard to tick of the boxes. I did like the main character (Alex, I think, not Kate?) once we got to know a bit more about her. And I totally agree that the characterizations of the family were great although I got a bit fed up at the author constantly demonstrating her politically correct, non racist credentials! I found the sections about the criminals dead boring as well as queasy, but a lot of (male?) readers of crime fiction really like that kind of thing. Anyway, great review, I think you’ve made many pertinent points.

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  3. bernadetteinoz says:

    How embarrassing to have mis-named the protagonist – now edited. I know someone called Kate Morrow and didn’t even realise I had referred to her rather than the real character’s name. Damn that subconscious of mine!

    Contrived is a very good way to describe the book – it sort of felt like it had been designed by a committee who were aiming for it to win a humanitarian award of some kind.

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  4. Marg says:

    I read the first couple of books of the Garnethill trilogy years ago, but never did get around to reading either the third book or any of her other books. I should revisit the trilogy as I really enjoyed her voice, and also the grimness/grittiness of the world that those books were set in.

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  6. kathy durkin says:

    I liked Mina’s Garnethill trilogy very much and enjoyed the Paddy Meehan books as well. It took me 80 pages to get into “Still Midnight,” and I’m into it now but find patches of it boring. Will see what I think when I’m finished.

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  7. kathy durkin says:

    I finished the book and began to get into it at about page 80. I found most of the parts about the perpetrators to be annoying and boring, but not all. I liked reading about the family whose father was kidnapped, especially about Omar. And I liked most, but not all of the sections about Alex Morrow and I liked reading about Glasgow. When Denise Mina writes, Glasgow is one of her best characters. I did have to skip a few paragraphs here and there when they were boring, frankly, or speedreed, another such tactic.

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  8. I agree Kathy that there were parts that were good but I did think it was one of those books that would have been better in print as it’s much easier to skip ahead sensibly than it is with audio books.

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