Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina


First Line: Martin Pavel heard it all as if through a pillow: the faint whine of ambulances, the helicopter murmur overhead, the muffled shouts of men in bulky uniforms, paramedics and cops shouting urgent instructions to each other-- GET THAT TAPE, MOVE THEM BACK.
Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow has barely returned to work from giving birth to twins and her plate is already full. A week before Christmas in a Glasgow post office, Martin Pavel finds his eyes locked on a small boy as the boy's grandfather helps gunmen gather all the money together. What Alex (and everyone else) wants to know is why did the old man volunteer to help the gunmen only to be killed? Was it an act of sacrifice or did the old man and his killer share a dark past?
The further into the investigation Alex gets, she's taken right to the door of Kenny Gallagher, a local politician fighting for his political life and his marriage after being accused of having an affair with a young woman. And what Alex doesn't know is that there is trouble in the form of blackmail and corruption brewing within her own ranks.
You can always count on Denise Mina to tackle uncomfortable truths in her books, and she does it again in this third Alex Morrow mystery, Gods and Beasts. The framework of the book can be found in two quotes she uses. One from Abraham Lincoln: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." The second from Aristotle: "Those who live outside the city walls and are self sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts." Gods and Beasts is the story of how some people abuse power, of how some people face the possibility of losing their jobs, of how the marginalized find themselves living from day to weary day. 

Mina is a master at writing about the marginalized, at writing about the grit and grime of living "outside the city walls" of Glasgow, and I once again found myself immersed in Alex Morrow's world as she tries to solve this crime, deal with her co-workers, and be a wife and mother. Mina's world isn't always pleasant. The days are often overcast and gloomy, and violence can blindside you. But there's comfort in knowing that someone like Alex Morrow is on the job. That someone like Alex Morrow will keep fighting the bad guys with intelligence and determination. 

There's a power to Mina's writing that you don't see every day. Take, for example, this one tiny scene that doesn't mean all that much in the scheme of things: "On the ground, by the side of the concrete front step, was a small ash tray, four half-smoked cigarettes laid out in a neat row, filters by filters, the burnt tips concertinaed. They made him think of diagrams of slave ships." This one small descriptive scene made this reader think of the smoker, so precise with those half-smoked cigarettes, so enslaved by an addiction to nicotine, but the scene keeps on giving. Diagrams of slave ships? My mind went on to think of people stolen from their homes, packed into filthy ships holds, and taken to work in tobacco fields. Of how slavery and poverty and drudgery grind people down. 
It's a tiny scene with so much depth and power that it still takes my breath away, and it's one of the many reasons why I read Denise Mina's books. If you haven't, I hope you'll give them a try. As much as I enjoy Mina's Alex Morrow series, I found her Garnethill trilogy and her novels featuring Paddy Meehan to be excellent. Don't miss out on Denise Mina, one of the founders of Tartan Noir.

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina
ISBN: 9781443416856
HarperCollins © 2013
Paperback, 304 pages
Police Procedural, #3 DS Alex Morrow mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet.


  1. I agree. Love Denise Mina's books. Sometimes I feel like rereading the Garnethill trilogy.

    I just read her standalone, The Less Dead, and it was a good one. Denise Mina understands why some women earn a living the really hard way.

    The End of the Wasp Season, was an excellent one and I think it is in the Alex Morrow series.

    1. Yes, The End of the Wasp Season is an Alex Morrow mystery.

  2. I'd love to get hold of this one. Sounds very exciting.

  3. Denise Mina is such a talented writer, Cathy. I really like the way she explores her characters, and yes, she does a great job of depicting the marginalized people. I'm very glad ('though not surprised) that you liked this one so well.

    1. This isn't the first time I've sung Mina's praises, is it?

  4. I read Denise Mina's Twitter, always interesting. And often funny.


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