Gods and Beasts is the third novel featuring DS Alex Morrow and follows her investigation into a pre-Christmas post office shooting and robbery. While she tries to unravel the mystery, Alex just wants to be home with her new twin boys and husband. Woven in is the mysterious young man who cared for a boy while his grandfather was shot, increasing amounts of police bribery, and a corrupt MP fighting scandalous allegations.
Mina is known for 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 pages before we even see Alex Morrow, our protagonist, and the lack of focus on her makes the book feel very full. There are countless characters all involved in various schemes, and even I had a hard time remembering which names fit into which story. The entire MP storyline could have been lifted from the book without a lot of bother. It only sheds light on the major ending twist; a twist that could have been delivered another way easily. Instead, Mina’s desire to delve into the political feels misplaced and could have been more powerful in another novel.
One thing that worked very well in Gods and Beasts was Morrow’s new motherhood. Mina is one of the few crime authors I’ve read that has had her main character be personally successful. In fact, during Bloody Scotland, Mina mentioned that she wanted “to write a cop who is very happy at home, just to be outrageous.” Morrow’s desire to be at home, her appreciation for her “second-chance at motherhood”, and her desire to push forward in her life were quite refreshing. She even admits her familial connection with half-brother mobster Danny to her bosses, just to prove she isn’t ashamed of who she is. I loved that about her, the strength it must have taken. DS Alex Morrow has shown one of the better character progressions in Scottish crime fiction, and Mina shows great restraint in not mucking it up for drama.
Gods and Beasts is still a fantastic read, even if it did have a high standard to live up to with End of the Wasp Season. While it lacks the same depth in its criminals that we have gotten more often from Mina, she does bring a new twist to a genre that constantly redefines itself in Scotland. Now if we could just have gotten rid of Kenny Gallagher MP, the story would be tight.
I 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
As most of you in the States know, Borders is closing their doors. While this is sad, it also means my personal library grew by several books. Some I needed, others were merely impulse buys. I like those kind. Since these will mostly become my to-read books over the next few weeks, I’ve uploaded them here.
From bottom to top:
- Poison Study – Maria V. Snyder (YA)
- Slip of the Knife – Denise Mina (Crime, 3rd in the Paddy Meehan series)
- Delirium – Lauren Oliver (YA, Dystopian)
- White Cat – Holly Black (YA, Fantasy)
- Friends, Lovers, Chocolate – Alexander McCall Smith (Crime, Scottish)
- Extraordinary – Nancy Werlin (YA, Fantasy)
- The Sherlockian – Graham Moore (Mystery)
- Doors Open – Ian Rankin (Crime, Scottish)
- The Black Book – Ian Rankin (Crime, 5th in Rebus Series)
- Hide and Seek – Ian Rankin (Crime, 2nd in Rebus Series)
- Chalice – Robin McKinley (YA?, Fantasy)
- Violence – Zizek (Philosophy, and don’t worry, I will not review it here)
- Top two are journals/notebooks. I am a sucker for those.
- Not Pictured: Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman (Fantasy – this one had actually gotten put on a shelf, so it missed the picture, and I am too tired to retake it)
- Also Not Pictured: Iron Witch – Karen Mahoney (YA, Fantasy – same reason as above)
Poison, Delirium, White Cat, Extraordinary, Sherlockian, Anansi Boys, and Chalice were all random buys. Though I like Black, Werlin, Gaiman, and McKinley, so I have high hopes. I have read the Rankins, but did not own the hard copies. I actually like philosophy, and Violence can prove useful for the PhD proposal. Mina and McCall Smith are also helpful for the PhD proposal. Actually, I didn’t much like the first of McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club and the book here is the second. Interesting from a studying point of view, but not really as a book. And like I said, journals are just plain fun. There’s also a good chance I bought a couple more books that got put away on a shelf, but if there were more I think I would feel a bit bad about how much money I spent. I do think I’m done though, since Borders was empty of Rankins, Minas, and basically everything else.
Let’s hope at least some of these books turn out to be good! And if not, they’ll look good on my shelf. Ha.
And thanks to ReadingFuelledByTea for this blog post idea.
When Amazon first announced the Kindle, I think I blanched. After all, how could you replace the physical copy of a book? It’s just so unromantic, too modern. And yet, the idea grew on me. I could carry hundreds of books in my purse, you say? I could have my entire library with me, search the books, highlight things and search for those highlights? As a student of literature, it was a very intriguing idea.
And then my amazing fiance got me one for my birthday.
I had no idea just how awesome it was.
Now granted, nothing can replace my library. After all, I still love to read a physical copy of a book. I also like to own the physical copies, because that small bit of pride likes it that people can see which books I own. Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted the library that Beast gives Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. But until I can afford the mansion with the large library, I have to settle for a few overflowing shelves tucked in the corner of my bedroom.
And yet, now I can carry Belle’s massive library with me at all times. The Kindle is lightweight, so it doesn’t add much to the normal clutter I carry in my purse. It is also roughly the size of a normal paperback, but much skinner. I keep mine in a protective case, just so my screen doesn’t get scratched by whatever could be lurking in my bags. The other benefit is how long the power lasts. I opened my Kindle on my birthday, at the end of June. I did not have to charge it until the end of July. And even though it’s had heavier usage in the last month, I only charged it for the third time a week ago. So basically, the battery lasts 3-4 weeks, and that was with my WiFi on the entire time. Pretty darn amazing.
Some people would say I should have just gone for a tablet, like Barnes and Noble’s Nook or all out for something like the iPad. One, I just wanted to read books. Because the Kindle is devoted to that function, it was perfect for me. Two, if I went for the Nook or an iPad I would be charging it every other day, they are heavier, larger, and clunkier to carry. Plus, with the Nook I would have to purchase from B&N, who are going to be more expensive and won’t have the same buying power as Amazon. While the iPad does have a Kindle app (as does my android phone, so I can put books on there if I want), the glare would also start to kill your eyes.
The electronic ink of the Kindle is perhaps its best and worst feature. Best because its no more painful or strains your eyes than a regular book would. Worst because it does not have a back light, so you need some kind of book light to read in the dark. While I of course own a few book lights, I do wish the Kindle would come out with an optional back light. That way, you could turn it on only when you needed it. Sure, it would run down your battery, but at least you would have the ability to read better on a plane or just in your room. So Amazon, if you ever read this blog (here’s hoping!), optional back light function on the Kindle. Default function to off. Get inventing!
As far as the actual reading of the books goes, the Kindle is amazing. I have never been one for reading multiple books at a time, but it is pretty easy to do just that on the device. For instance, I can have a fun, beach-type read that I can pick up from time to time and flip back to the books I read for review here. It saves where you are in the book, so you never have to navigate back, and it also saves you from using bookmarks (I always seem to lose mine, including one I got from the Sherlock Holmes house last year, and I am still gutted about that. Of course, it is probably in one of my books, I just have to figure out which one. Amusing. I should get Sherlock to find it.). While I do miss holding a book and seeing the number of pages decrease in my right hand, Kindle does give you the percentage read. It is better than having some arbitrary page number (Nook readers tell me this is what it does), because you’ll have no idea how many pages are in the book itself.
Enough about my love of the Kindle. Well, just a bit more. Some people, like myself, were afraid that the EReader would kill the publishing industry. I think it’s actually thriving because of it. Books can be offered at a lower cost to the publisher, giving them a higher profit. And frankly, more people are reading. Think about all those dead times you have – waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting in line at the DMV, or your morning commute (NOT if you’re driving, I mean public transport here). You have the ability now to carry more than one reading option with you, on something small enough that it doesn’t become cumbersome to carry. Now you can fill those dead hours with reading the new Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman, or Denise Mina books. Now that reading is easier and more convenient in this fast-paced world, more of us are making time to do it. Even as an avid reader, I do find myself reading more often because of my Kindle.
(You can also get magazine subscriptions, newspapers, and other more informative things on the Kindle. I just go for the books, though.)