Mystery novels are guilty pleasures. The good ones keep readers awake well past midnight. Two top mystery writers working today are Scottish.
Ian Rankin sets most of his stories in his hometown of Edinburgh.
Denise Mina does the same for the environs of her Glasgow.
A new book by either author is an event. Rankin published his newest novel featuring the detective John Rebus in January. Mina just rolled out her latest book in a series that features detective Alex Morrow.
These Scots have different styles. Rankin’s Rebus possesses a deadpan sense of humor. His murder mysteries seem almost light-hearted in comparison to Mina’s. Her stories can be ever so dark and twisted.
Her latest, “The Red Road,” opens on a Saturday night during the summer of 1997. A pair of murders are about to take place in Glasgow. These homicides receive scant press coverage the following day. Princess Diana has also perished the night before. Her tragedy gets all the press.
The first two sentences set the scene: “Rose Wilson was 14 but looked 16. Sammy said it was a shame.” Rose waits for Sammy in his car. She is one of society’s discards. Relegated to living in a children’s home, Rose has gotten herself into a nasty fix.
Sammy dominates Rose. He was her pimp — he made arrangements for her to be sexually abused by various groups of men. She is surviving by doing what he said but “she was waiting until she could get away from him, until she could find someone else, someone that she didn’t need to lie to.”
Rose is due for some sort of a psychotic break. Then it happens — such a bloody scene. Rose goes to prison. Fast forward to the present. Police detective Alex Morrow is investigating a case that involves Michael Brown, the brother of one of the men murdered in 1997.
Michael Brown was convicted of murdering his brother, Pinkie, on that summer night in 1997. But we already know that Rose really killed Pinkie. There’s something odd and confusing going on here. Suffice it to say that someone has tampered with the fingerprint evidence. Who was this dirty cop?
“The Red Road” takes readers along a path that is as twisted as the deviants who abused Rose when she was 14. Alex Morrow has her own issues to deal with. Her brother is a major Glasgow gangster. He appears to be involved in this case. Morrow conducts her investigation while wondering about her brother’s role in this unsavory business while also fretting about her babies at home, twins who don’t see their mom often enough.
Oh, and Rose is out of jail now. She is employed as a servant in the household of an attorney who was also involved in her murder trial. Is he employing her out of the goodness of his heart or does he have some dark secrets of his own to conceal?
A recent survey revealed that in Scotland the top 20 books checked out of libraries were all either crime novels or thrillers. Works by Denise Mina and Ian Rankin topped that list. In the case of Mina it is suggested that you read her books with all the lights turned up high — her stuff is so very, very dark. Enjoy.
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