Gods & Beasts – Denise Mina

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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.

Rating: 7/10


Storm Front – Jim Butcher

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Storm Front opens with Harry Dresden getting mocked by his mailman, because Dresden is a professional wizard.  You can find him in the phone book.  He helps the police out with some of the more mysterious cases, finds lost items, and generally uses his magic and knowledge of the supernatural for good.  He’s a private investigator, but with a magical twist.  The first in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front follows Harry as he hunts down the most powerful sorcerer he has ever gone up against, a man with a penchant for ripping the hearts out of his victims from miles away.

Written like a hard-boiled detective story, Jim Butcher has created a very unique series with Harry Dresden.  Between Dresden’s thirty-pound cat Mister and the skull-residing spirit Bob, Butcher sets Dresden up with a fantastical home life with a more modern take.  The magic in Storm Front focuses a lot on energy, mental capabilities, and a lot less on wand-waving.  It’s sort of like Harry Potter for adults, you know, if Harry never married Ginny and had three kids he obviously named himself.  Dresden has a great self-deprecating humor that keeps him from feeling too grandiose or self-righteous.  He has his flaws, but he also knows he has better control over his innate powers than many of his peers.  Dresden himself is a great, deep character who keeps you engaged in the series.

Alongside Dresden is his Chicago PD contact, Karrin Murphy.  Short and hardly physically imposing, Murphy deals with crimes of occult nature.  She calls Dresden in regularly to assist on cases, and she is just as much a match for Dresden as a character.  A strong female counterpoint for Dresden, Murphy more than holds her own in Storm Front.  Couple her with reporter Susan Rodriguez, and you get a surprising amount of female power for a fantasy detective novel.

Fool Moon and Grave Peril follow in the series, and both are better than the previous book.  Storm Front really builds a world you want to learn more about, a character and companions that you want to keep following.  I read the first three books in just a matter of days, and there are about nine more in the series I need to catch up on.  First released in 2000, Storm Front may not be the newest series out there, but it is definitely worth checking out.  With the increasing interest in different-slanted fantasy (especially due to TV shows like “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time”), the Dresden Files are ahead of the curve.

Rating: 8/10