Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Review: Still Midnight

Still Midnight by Denise Mina

Still Midnight was another Entertainment Weekly suggestion, the start of a detective series that takes place in Glasgow. I think it received a B+.  Amazon goes from 3.5 to 4 depending on where you look.

I struggled a little bit with this book. There were times when I was going to just abandon it but I kept reading. Close to the end, I felt like I was going to finish it, return to the library and not check any more of the series. By the end, I had decided I would check out a second one in the series to see if I should keep going or call it done.

It's hard to describe this book without giving spoilers, but I will try.  The book follows a case involving a man who is kidnapped at the start of the book. You get to follow the whole story from both the perspective of the kidnappers as well as the police officers. And even the kidnapped man himself when he's left alone.

The story centers around Detective Alex Morrow, a very hard woman who struggles with how hard she is, second-guesses herself, struggles with confidence and feels passed over for unfair reasons but then also secretly wonders if it's how she treats other people.

In time, some of the reasons why she is the way she is are revealed and I have to say that the manner in which they are revealed are a little disorienting but cool at the same time. For instance, she goes and visits a guy at his apartment.  She stresses about their relationship, about how things have changed between them, stuff like that. When she arrives at the apartment, she exchanges pleasantries with his girlfriend, seeming like they are cool with one another, even if she might not have all that high an opinion of the girlfriend.  And then the guy comes out and they start talking. But it's a ways into the interaction before you learn just how they're connected and why she chose to pay him a visit. It ends up being kinda cool, like you were hanging out with her and she said "I need to run a quick errand" but doesn't give you any details and you're just hanging out with her waiting for her to be done which I think speaks to her character and how she keeps things to herself.

So she has a confidence about her work, a paranoia about the politics and decisions of her supervisors and peers and a lack of confidence about her ability to play the game and be influential and receive credit for her work.  Add a few more layers I can't describe without spoiling and you get a pretty solid character.

I did, however, have a few problems with the book.

The swearing. Wow, the swearing. Is it Scottish people? Is it Scottish cops and criminals? Is it just supposed to be gritty? Wow, so much swearing.

The criminals. Didn't care for them. Maybe it was because they were criminals and our main character is a cop, so we're not supposed to like them. I liked how there were varying shades of evil in the criminals but the ones with the most redeeming qualities were also the dumbest.

An unnecessary deus ex machina. There's a character introduced late in the book. Well, he existed as a voice on the phone earlier, but is introduced in person late in the book. He's mostly unnecessary.  He serves a small purpose (he's another criminal) but his eventual fate in the book makes him seem all the more unnecessary, especially in his final disposition. Had something entirely different happened, it wouldn't have changed the story one bit.  Or, that is to say, the author could have gone in a myriad of different directions to come to the same resolution without having made that puzzling story choice.

A weird thing that happened at the end. It almost felt for a few sentences like a Saturday Night Live Movie ending. It was weird.

But aside from the swearing, most of my problems were with the criminals and one presumes there will be new criminals in each book, so they can be dismissed in the hopes of criminals I like better in the next book.  Oh, wait, one more thing... it's funny because I had been talking to Lori the day before about about a similar situation in a movie that I had seen probably almost a decade ago - not sure why it popped into my head a day before I read of a similar scene in a book... a character disappears part-way through the book.  They had a reason all set up and did some foreshadowing, but it still felt like a device to deal with a character who was now longer necessary for the rest of the story. That was a bit awkward.

So.. would I recommend it? Maybe... the writing is good. Consistent, nice descriptions. Not like anyone's trying too hard. The story's believable and told in such a way that you grow to care about this hard-nosed detective. The descriptions of Glasgow (I've never been) are easy to picture in your mind and there's a wide variety of characters who all have distinctive voices.

I will check out book two and see what I think.

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