In Glasgow a young woman is murdered in her home, her face so badly damaged that even hardened police struggle with viewing the body. Almost immediately readers meet the two teenage boys who are responsible for the hideous crime (though there is doubt about which of them was more directly involved) and therefore we are less concerned with whodunit than why. The police, led by five months pregnant DS Alex Morrow, have to establish who committed the crime as well as work out a motive and so we follow their somewhat haphazard investigation. Very early on we also learn that the father of one the two boys has hung himself and we wonder what, if anything, that has to do with the murder; again we are primarily concerned with the motivation for the act and the impact it will have on the people left behind.
The people who populate The End of the Wasp Season are well drawn even, or perhaps especially, when they are the kind of black-hearted souls most of us would run a mile from. Individually, they are very complex and memorable people and I am especially impressed with the way Mina manages to make short term characters come alive so quickly. Thomas Anderson, the boy whose father has committed suicide, is a most believable boy on the cusp of manhood with his conflicting emotions and oscillation between childish behaviour and more mature thinking (of course the dose of insanity is less usual but with parents like his it’s not entirely surprising). Another memorable character is Kay Murray who is loosely connected to the case because she was the carer for the murdered woman’s mother. She was also a school friend of Alex Morrow’s though is now a single mum to four children, works as a cleaner and lives in a small flat, all of which is in contrast to Alex’s life which causes some tension between the two women, especially when suspicion is thrown onto Kay’s children. She has to struggle with her own pride and fight for the rights of her family and she is credibly depicted throughout the process.
On the whole though I found the book a little flat and in the several days since I finished it I’ve struggled to work out why. Firstly there is the fact that collectively, the characters do conform to pretty broad and annoying stereotypes (rich people are bastards, bosses are bastards, poor people are good-hearted & hard-working). Aside from the fact it made their actions and the outcome of the story fairly predictable this also wearied me more than a little. Perhaps I read too much into things but I sensed a tone of underlying hatred for anyone who isn’t dirt poor and it turned me off in the same way that blind acceptance of any stereotype makes me switch off.
The other element that may well have been entirely realistic but that nevertheless was disheartening and made the book feel quite cold was the attitude of the police. Throughout the book Alex has to work incredibly hard to get anyone else in the entire force to give a damn about the murdered woman and hence to get off their forever-complaining behinds and do a moment’s work on the case. Admittedly their boss is a hateful, bullying SOB but that doesn’t entirely explain their behaviour and work ethic. I kept thinking how lucky I am not to work with such a lazy, unthinking bunch of whiners.
This feels like a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde review as on the one hand I thought the structure of the novel clearly tried to do something new and generally succeeded and the individual characterisations were tremendous. To balance this out though I found the rest of the book a bit lacking. The ease with which the plot could be predicted and the nastiness of the tone at some points left me a bit cold. Having absolutely adored two of Mina’s other books I definitely won’t be giving up on her but I think I might be done with this particular series.
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My rating 3/5
Publisher Orion Publishing 
Length 404 pages
Format eBook (kindle)
Book Series #2 in Alex Morrow series
Source I bought it