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.
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