The truly excellent Denise Mina has done it again. Blood Salt Water is an enthralling police procedural story with DI Alex Morrow, who many of you will have come to know, admire and even like at the centre of another story of crime, murder and mayhem set in Glasgow, and the west of Scotland.
This is not so much a whodunnit but a whydunnit. We know from the very start who has committed a particularly brutal murder. It is the motives that are the key issue. And the setting. Because no-one thinks of Helensburgh as being a lethal place. But if you think about it, Helensburgh looks like a snake coiling on the estuary, soaking up what sunshine it can. And this story shows that it is particularly venomous.
Here you will find some people trying to live ordinary, normal lives, having a bit of fun every now and then. But here you will also find the greed of the blackmailer, the duplicity of the fraudster, the viciousness of the thug, the amorality of the crime lord, and all of it in a small Scottish town in a beautiful location on the Firth of Clyde.
The backdrop to the story is the referendum campaign of 2014, whose differences underpin the plot and very much contribute to the tension of the storyline. It is there as a rumbling discontent, a cause of strain between people. But it has no real effect upon the lives of the protagonists. For the criminals, it is a calculation that they have to make in terms of the profitability of their activities, for the police investigating the crimes it is something to be ignored. For ordinary people, it is something that they are caught up in, on one side or the other, or just plain bewildered.
And then there are the children. They are the real victims. They are caught up in things that they do not understand, and they suffer because of it. Alex Morrow’s boys somehow seem a little peripheral in her life. The Fraser children are caught up in the difficulties of their parents. The Fuentecilla children are pawns in the battle between their parents. And little Lea-Anne finds herself at the heart of a tragedy.
I have often wondered why people like crime novels. I suppose it is that the stories introduce a frisson of excitement. It gives people a glimpse into a world that they do not know. Paradoxically, it makes them feel safe. Denise Mina is a mistress par excellence of this craft. It is why her books are so well written, so difficult to put down and, very simply, just so enjoyable.