End of the Wasp Season – Denise Mina

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The End of the Wasp Season coverI am sort of afraid that some people might think I’m a bit obsessed with Mina and with Rankin.  In my defense, they are well worth the obsession.  I swear, I do read other authors, but when a new Mina book comes out, I have to stop everything and read.

The End of the Wasp Season is the second in the DI Alex Morrow series.  Pregnant with twins, Morrow seems almost healed from the loss of her young son a couple of years before.  Though her coworkers think the pregnancy makes her frail, Morrow is more confident and enmeshed in her work than ever.  Investigating the death of Sarah Erroll brings Morrow back into the life of an old school friend, reminding Morrow of the past she tries so hard to forget.  Morrow must deal with her complicated relationship with her half-brother Danny, her pregnancy, and her sympathy for the victim that has landed at the center of this story.

DI Alex Morrow is potentially the most relatable cop coming out of Scottish crime fiction.  She does not consider herself above anyone else (a trait that Rebus sometimes falls into), does not think that she has skills someone else does not.  Morrow merely presses the issue, follows her gut, and feels for the victim.  It is unusual for crime fiction to have much sympathy for the person now dead.  After all, the bodies tend to be the impetus for the game, nothing more than a piece on a checker board.  Morrow, however, is sickened by the attitude her fellow officers have towards the disfigured body of Sarah Erroll.  She is motivated to catch the killer not as part of her job or to serve justice to the wicked, but to help provide closure to Sarah’s dangling existence.  The final push that leads Morrow to the killers is fueled by a simple video of Sarah sent to Morrow by one of Sarah’s friends.

Morrow’s anger has abated in this novel, and I like it better.  She maintains an edge, but the lack of quick anger helps to demonstrate the steps she has taken to move on after the loss of a young child.  Alex is not soft by any means, but she learns through her rediscovered friend Kay, her husband, and even through the murderer what a good family could mean to someone.  Perhaps “good” is not the word, but rather “accepting”.  Knowing who you are, where you come from, and accepting that could make all the difference in the world.

Now, to our killer.  Thomas is a young man whose thoughts can be terribly depressing.  His father is a large financier who has just lost everything.  The book implies a scandal of some sort, but like Thomas, we never fully understand what happened.  His father, Lars, confesses to Thomas that there is another woman he calls his wife, and he has another son and daughter the same age as Thomas and his younger sister.  Unable to cope, he made the trip to Sarah’s thinking she was the other wife.  He takes his friend Squeak with him, and Thomas is scarred because of what happened in that house.  Lars kills himself the day the boys kill Sarah, and Thomas is ushered home to his insane mother and equally mental sister.  He tries to act the adult, but finds he cannot cope both with what he has done and how his family behaves.

There are two things that are interesting about Thomas.  One, that he reminds me most of William McIlvanney’s murderer in Laidlaw.  The Glaswegian detective that kick-started the tartan noir, McIlvanney manages to make his own killer Tommy sympathetic.  You feel sorry for him, understand him.  There are few authors out there who manage to make you root, in a sense, for the killer.  Mina does that with Thomas (same name, ironically).  You delve so deep into his psyche and into his problems, that you see where he has been capable of what he has done.  There are, again, a lot of Jekyll and Hyde tendencies in Thomas, the normal boy making you pity the monster within him.

The other interesting tidbit lies in the mind’s ability to trick itself.  After all he has done and seen, Thomas tries tirelessly to wipe the images and actions out of his mind.  You as the reader wonder just how much he really participated in the act of Sarah’s murder, if his protestations to himself are all an act or if they are sincere.  He has never seen his sister’s mental illness because he did not want to see it.  He wanted instead to feel jealous of her and the doting attention paid her by his parents.  The mind tricks us to protect us, and that is the lesson that Thomas seems to learn, mostly, from his experiences.

Mina has again crafted a novel that is psychologically superior to most of her contemporaries.  Morrow is our MC, well-rounded, growing (not just in pregnancy, haha), and learning in her career.  She cares, and so it is much easier for us to care about her.  But Mina does not just give us Morrow as a narrator.  She gives us our victim, so that we can feel compassion for her.  Mina writes from Kay, Morrow’s school friend, so that we can see Morrow and the police from a different light.  And Mina takes us deep into the mind of the killer, but not leaving us feeling disgusted like so many other writers choose to do.  Instead, we feel pity for the boy who was never loved and cast aside by the father he so hopelessly tried to please.  Four fully-fleshed characters to narrate our story, each with a different one to tell, and each completely captivating.  This is why Mina excels and remains at the top of Scottish crime fiction – she makes us care about each and every character in her story.

Rating: 9/10 (I only take off a point because the book opens with Sarah’s view instead of Alex, and it was a little jarring for me.)

Format read: Kindle

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2 thoughts on “End of the Wasp Season – Denise Mina

    […] you see things that you want to see.  I touched on this same thing in my review of Mina’s new book, but Makkai takes a different route.  For instance, Lucy’s father has always told her […]

    Gods & Beasts – Denise Mina « Breathing Fiction said:
    October 10, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    […] her deep, psychological crime fiction, and I expected Gods and Beasts to be on par or better than End of the Wasp Season.  I am afraid this newest installment fell a little short of its predecessor.  It is several […]

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