Still Midnight, By Denise Mina

A ferocious thrill ride of criminality
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow finds her career in the police force on hold when her boss accuses her of lacking sensitivity when dealing with Asians. Alex sometimes speaks before she thinks, and has a volatility never far from the surface (particularly regarding the way the force treats its female officers), but the accusation is unjust.

A Pakistani family in Glasgow has been terrified at home by two brutal white men who attempt to extort millions of pounds. The invaders ignore protestations that they have broken into the wrong home. Finally, they leave, taking an elderly member of the family as hostage. Alex, despite her demotion, works on the case – and finds that nothing adds up. What's more, her investigations are in danger of being compromised by keeping her criminal brother a secret.

Denise Mina bagged the John Creasey prize for best first crime novel for her blistering debut Garnethill (1998), but many a promising career has withered on the vine. It was a relief when Exile (2000) maintained her career trajectory. The Glasgow setting was rendered with a rare gritty authority – and those of us who have avidly consumed each successive Mina novel will have no problem with going back to these mean streets.

Here, Mina shakes the tired format of the thriller until all the clichés come out. Alex, the conflicted protagonist, is always dealing with her own problems along with her professional ones – a tactic that canny writers know is essential to lift a book above the exigencies of the police procedural.

The narrative is inspired by a real-life kidnapping, but Mina parleys this into something richer and stranger than the real case, taking on board politics, racism and a prickly but basically sympathetic community. The final effect of Still Midnight is both unsettling and exhilarating, but there's a nagging question prompted by the much-ploughed furrow of Mina's locales. Do we need a vacation from Scottish mayhem? Not as long as Mina continues to produce novels as ferociously gripping as this.