Tag Archives: Denise Mina

For the Joy of Reading: The Long Drop

Denise Mina is a phenomenal writer.   She can take a subject as unpleasant as Peter Manuel’s killings and turn it into a compulsive read.   She just hooks you in and convinces you that you must read the next page.   If you think that you are going to be able to put this book down, you are very much mistaken.

So who was Peter Manuel?   He was a multiple murderer, who committed his crimes in Glasgow in the late 1950s.   He does not fit the usual profile of a serial killer in that there was not always a sexual motive in his crimes.  Some people he murdered for the sheer pleasure of it.   Some he raped and murdered.   It seems to me that his motivation was to make himself important, to boost his own self-esteem by bullying people and making them afraid of him.   He was a nasty little man, both in his physical and mental stature.

What is extraordinary about this book is that Denise Mina convinces you that you want to read it.  She introduces you to the Glasgow of the 1950s, a city that was still hankering to be the “second city of the empire”; a grimy, dirty declining industrial city; a city of hard men and long-suffering women; a city riven by sectarian violence; a city of slums, where inside toilets were unheard of, and a city of wealth, and merchants and lawyers and power.

This was the city in which Peter Manuel grew up, the son of a Glasgow hard man and a devout Catholic mother.   He grew up and went from bad to worse, graduating from petty crime and robbery to rape and murder.  This is the story of his progress through the Glasgow underworld.   But he is no Jack Shepherd, cocking a snook at the authorities, nor does he have the charm of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.   He is someone who aspires to be important in his own vicious way.

Denise Mina takes us through the story, introducing a Rogues’ Gallery along the way – bent lawyers, gangland bosses, thieves and petty criminals.   Then there are the authority figures – priests and policemen and politicians who are certainly no better than they ought to be and probably not as good.   And casting its shadow over all of this is Glasgow itself, from the tenements of The Gorbals to the wealth and power of Trades’ House and Merchants’ House.

Peter Manuel could have been born and brought up anywhere, but he was a Glaswegian and this is a Glaswegian story.   I am not sure that the Glasgow Tourist Board will be too happy with Denise Mina.

But you as the readers have a treat in store.



For the Joy of Reading: Blood Salt Water

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.