Review: The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The End of the Wasp Season has been reviewed at Mysteries in Paradise and Reviewing the Evidence where both reviewers were more enamoured of the book than I am.

My reviews of Still Midnight (the first Alex Morrow book), Garnethill and Exile

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Publisher Orion Publishing [2011]
ISBN 9781409112013
Length 404 pages
Format eBook (kindle)
Book Series #2 in Alex Morrow series
Source I bought it

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10 Responses to Review: The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

  1. Maxine says:

    I’ve just skimmed your review as I’m tending towards reading this book. I found the predecessor a bit of a mixed bag, and was put off this one when it first came out in the UK by the publisher’s blurb and a couple of reviews. But recently it’s come out elsewhere and reviews are more positive, so I might try it. If so I’ll come back and let you know if I concur with your assessment 😉

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  2. Barbara says:

    What a shame! I’ve loved the Denise Mina books I’ve read but this doesn’t sound at all enticing. I won’t give up on her either, but I’m sure I will give this one a pass.

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  3. Bernadette – Thanks; your reviews are always so well-done and so helpful. I’m sorry to hear this one didn’t really do it for you, despite the excellent individual characterisation. I’d wondered whether to read this, as I liked Mina’s Garnethill novels. Perhaps I’ll wait…

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  4. kathy d. says:

    I loved the Garnethill trilogy, am thinking of rereading it if i had the time. I liked the Paddy Meehan series. However, I really didn’t much like the first book in this series. I was not interested in the parts about the criminals at all, although I was interested in Alex Morrow’s work and personal hardships.
    I will read this one; the library has it. I have read mixed reviews. I wouldn’t purchase it but I will borrow it from the library.

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  5. Keishon says:

    I’ve been meaning to try Denise Mina and have Garnethill in my library.

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  6. Gertrude says:

    For those of you who already read the book – Did you understand the thing about the shoes? Why on earth did the other boy switch the shoes if he wasn´t quilty? I understand that Mina wanted to have a twist in the plot and surprise the reader but it didn´t make sense to me. If Squeak took Thomas´ trainers and pretended they were his then he was trying to save Thomas, but why would he do that? There was nothing in their relationship to suggest he had such strong feelings about Thomas, and in the interrogation room with the police he seems to believe they will let him go. Which is really stupid if he is planning to take the blame. As he was present at the crimescene he must have known that Thomas´ shoeprints would be found near the body and his own further away. Why did he take the trainers then, somebody?

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  8. Kathy D. says:

    I just finished this. I liked the book, especially the way the plot unfolded, like unpeeling an onion. And I especially like the characterizations, mostly that of Kay and her family. And this time around, I liked Alex Morrow and got to know her, a big step from the first book in the series Still Midnight, which I did not like nor did I like her.
    I thought this was a very thoughtful books, one I could not put down.
    I’m not going to think about it like I did with Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter or Indridason’s books or Donna Leon’s books or others. But I am glad I read it.
    It was different from the usual police procedural, a lot more thoughtful than many, with more developed characters than many, and it had its unique flavor.
    And, predictably, I did not like the Lars, Moira, Thomas, Ella family, and I did like Kay and her family. It’s o.k. with me that the rich were nasty and dysfunctional and the poor family was typical and hard-working, and the teen-agers acting like normal folks their age.

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