I'm off to Scotland on Sunday (and will be absent from blogging for awhile), and I wanted to get in a little contemporary fiction about where I'm going before I leave. I'd heard of Denise Mina, but never read anything by her, so when Still Midnight came around via downloadable (still not my favorite way to listen) I gave it my ears. How better to acclimatize to a Scottish accent?
Mina writes "tartan noir," and while noir (on the edgier side) is not my favorite kind of detective fiction (I'm more partial to procedurals and historicals), I have enjoyed Ian Rankin and Val McDermid. Still Midnight was great. It's not a conventional whodunnit -- the reader knows the perpetrators from the outset. It's the why that clearly intrigues Mina and Still Midnight is quite the onion -- layers upon layers get slowly peeled back.
Two thugs in balaclavas burst into the Glasgow house of shopkeeper Aamir Anwar waving guns and shouting for "Bob." Three generations of Anwars -- Muslims by way of Uganda -- are living there and none of them are named Bob. (Or so they say.) One of the kidnappers panics and shoots his gun, wounding Aamir's teenaged daughter. They grab Aamir, hustle him out of the house and demand £2-million ransom.
The police are called and two CID detective sergeants are put on the case: Alex Morrow and Grant Bannerman. It's clear to us who is the better detective, but Bannerman is given control because -- their superior believes -- it would be better to have a man in charge of a case that deals with Muslim immigrants. Morrow is furious, but she's never played politics well and has no allies on the force to complain to. In true noir fashion, she begins to work alone and on the edges of what's legal. It is Alex -- with her secret connections to some criminal elements -- who unearths the first break in the case and ultimately it is Alex who doggedly solves Mina's why. And it's a pretty neat (but not tidy) solution.
The narrator Jane MacFarlane reads the book. She has a pleasant voice to listen to, and rolls those Scottish "r's" nicely; yet it is never difficult to understand her characters. While the subtle differences between various Scots accents are pretty much lost on me, MacFarlane brings in accents from elsewhere in the United Kingdom -- Aamir's daughter-in-law comes from Lancaster (which I may not be remembering right?) and the boss of the kidnappers chimes in from Northern Ireland. The Muslim characters (those that aren't native to Scotland) sound authentic as well. I particularly enjoyed MacFarlane's portrayal of the prickly Alex -- angry at police incompetence, keeping secrets at home, and sympathetic to the victim's family (until she finds out that they've been playing her). Her voice is high-pitched and, frankly, bitchy at times and it rings totally true.
I've got another Mina book -- this time in print -- cued up for the long plane ride to Glasgow. By Monday morning, I should know all about the seamier side of Scotland's largest city.