Book review: Still midnight, by Denise Mina

Still Midnight"She knows the difference between good and bad. She’s just not sure which she prefers…” So reads the inaccurate cover blurb on Denise Mina’s latest novel, Still Midnight.  The novel is, in fact, a tale of a Glasgow kidnapping gone wrong, told from two points of view – that of the perpetrators, who are hapless, unintelligent, fantasist lowlifes; and that of DS Alex Morrow, a neurotic, unpopular yet competent police detective. 
 
The kidnapping is planned by Eddy, a failed person on many counts but, as seen through co-conspirator Pat’s eyes, dangerous. The two men attack a suburban house at night, with the aim of kidnapping a man called Bob. Eddy has it on good authority from his Irish contacts that Bob’s family will pay a ransom of a million pounds to get him back. The third member of the trio is Malki, Pat’s heroin-addicted young cousin, who is to drive the getaway vehicle. Inevitably, the attack goes wrong on several counts, but Eddy and Pat do kidnap someone, and manage to get away with their victim.

Alex is one of the police officers called to the scene of the crime. She’s initially excited because it is her turn for the next case, but her hopes are soon dashed when her unfriendly boss, DI McKenchie, gives the job to her hated colleague DS Bannerman. Alex feels herself to be an outsider as she has achieved her rank on merit, whereas Bannerman is from a police family and so she feels he gets preferential treatment and is “one of the boys” – which Alex very definitely is not, going out of her way to be unpleasant to all her colleagues.

The rest of the story is told in alternating passages from the perspectives of the kidnappers (mainly Pat) and the police (exclusively Alex). I found it very slow-paced, and the sections about the kidnappers quite boring as well as unpleasant. Alex is by far the most interesting, intelligent and (as far as witnesses are concerned) sensitive character in the book –  although I really did not like her persistent crude swearing and in particular use of the "c" word – yet the revelations about the shadows in her personal life which give her depth are rather long in coming.

The novel comes to life towards the end, as the pace speeds up with plot twists and turns among the relationships between the kidnappers and their families; and the victims and theirs. I am not quite sure whether I liked this curate’s egg of a book sufficiently to want to read the next  in the series, if there is one – it is a fairly standard plot, though the family and friends of the victims are well-observed.  I’ll be better disposed to a next book if it focuses more Alex’s personal and professional life, and less on the ins and outs of the tedious activities of stupid but violent villains.


 Author website
(possibly not updated very recently as this book, just out in paperback in the UK, does not seem to be on it). Among other books, the website features the author's Garnethill trilogy, which I liked very much indeed, and her Paddy Meehan series, which on the basis of having read the first, was not to my taste.

Denise Mina at the publisher's (Orion) website.

Short review of Still Midnight at The Guardian.

Crime Time review of Still Midnight.

Independent review of Still Midnight.

9 thoughts on “Book review: Still midnight, by Denise Mina

  1. How interesting. I quite loved this book. It took me a while to get the hang of the main character – she’s as touchy and prickly as Maureen and as insecure as Paddy – but she won me over, and the hapless kidnappers struck me as a wonderfully mad bunch. The ending was a real shock, not at all what I expected. I think I started out wondering what kind of book it was; when I stopped thinking about categorizing it and went with the flow, I really loved it.

  2. Maxine – Thanks for this fine review. I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t more taken with this book. I’d wondered if I should put it on my TBR list, because I’d really liked some of Mina’s other work (Garnethill). Hmmm…..I may still give it a try, but it’s a shame it didn’t live up to your expectations.

  3. I have gathered you didn’t care for the book as much as others of hers but I am averting my eyes from your review as I have this book next up on my audio book playlist.

  4. I can see you have some reservations, but I´ll probably put it on my list anyway. I am reading the third Garnethill book now and enjoying it very much.
    My son is home from uni to celebrate Elizabeth´s 20th birthday this weekend. He also enjoyed Elly Griffith and Jane Casey´s books very much!

  5. Yes, other people seem to have enjoyed it more than me. I rarely enjoy books about kidnappers being cruel to victims (though there is little gratuitous violence in this book – a little but not too much) – it just isn’t a topic I find of any interest whatsoever. I also think my reaction to it was coloured by having just read 4 or 5 translated novels which were so well written, I was so eager to get back to them each time. Still Midnight felt like a bit of a “duty” – I kept finding other things to do instead of picking it up! But it is certainly well observed and the author seems to have put in a lot of effort.
    Barbara- I don;t want to give anything away , but the “end end” was very heavily signalled. There were a couple of good plot revelations but I thought the fact that the detectives just did not get around to interviewing some witnesses very thoroughly (or checking them out), and that the “solution” depended on not one but two coincidental misunderstandings about the same thing — well, hmmm, I’m afraid!

  6. Geez; the Paddy Meehan books got better. I enjoyed them but not quite as much as the Garnethill series.
    I am disappointed to see your reaction to the new Mina book, not necessarily your reaction, but the issues with the book.
    So, even more importantly, which 4 or 5 translated books are you referring to, that were so much more compelling?

  7. Thanks, kdurkin. Immediately before reading this one, I’d read and reviewed Che Committed Suicide (Markos), Inspector Cataldo’s Crimina Summer (Guicciardi), Dark Matter (Zeh) and Badfellas (Benacquista). My reviews at the moment are on this blog or at Euro Crime website (www.eurocrime.co.uk). At the top of this blog you can get to an archive of links or an archive of the actual reviews. The actual reviews are tagged by country of author if you are interested in translated fiction from a particular region.

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