Gods and Beasts, By Denise Mina

Real cops, real crooks, and no clichés

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The Independent Culture

Denise Mina is riding high at the moment, having won the prestigious Crime Novel of the Year award for her last book, The End of the Wasp Season. It was well deserved because that novel, Mina's ninth and the second to feature Detective Superintendent Alex Morrow, was an expert psychological deconstruction of the credit crunch, as well as a page-turning police procedural to boot.

If anything, Gods and Beasts is even better. Morrow, who was heavily pregnant in the earlier novel, is now the exhausted mother of twins, and worries that new parenthood is making her soft at work. And this time, Mina is looking at the world of politics, and the uneasy tightrope walk between idealism and pragmatism that sometimes means the balance of power slips towards those willing to be corrupt.

Gods and Beasts has three plot lines running concurrently, and it's only towards the end that the author brings them together. We open with a post-office robbery in which a bystanding grandfather calmly hands his grandson to a stranger and then offers to help the robber, only to be shot and killed.

We also get the trials and tribulations of Kenny Gallagher, a left-wing firebrand politician who sues a newspaper for alleging he has conducted an affair with a young intern – despite the fact that the allegation is blatantly true.

And lastly, we get the story of two police officers under Morrow's command who make the ill-fated snap decision to take a bag of money which they find in a drug dealer's car. Needless to say, the decision immediately backfires, and they get blackmailed for their trouble.

These three stories seem to deal with different levels of Glaswegian society, but Mina brings them together with immense skill. One of the best things about her crime novels is her natural tendency to duck out of the way of the genre's clichés. So there are no maverick cops playing by their own rules here; the police officers are all real characters struggling with their jobs, their families and their lives, the same as anyone else. And there are no big, evil baddies either; just real and believable characters who have become compromised or corrupted by their circumstances. Gods and Beasts confirms Mina's place at the front of the crime-writing pack.