I haven't read a book by Denise Mina since her novel, The Field of Blood, which was the first in her Paddy Meehan trilogy. I really enjoyed that book and don't know why I haven't read the rest of the trilogy, yet alone any of her other books, I just never seemed to get around to it.
Which leads me to Blood, Salt, Water, which is her latest. And wow! What a read! This is apparently the fifth featuring her protagonist Alex Morrow and on the strength of this I might have to go back and read the other four, and then finish her Paddy Meehan trilogy, and then read everything else she has written. Alex Morrow is a well rounded character, as are all the other people to feature in the novel, but what most excites me about this book is the story itself.
So many crime novels feature a serial killer or some variation of the theme. In fact, if memory serves me right, the Paddy Meehan novel I read had one. Quite frankly, I am tired of reading novels with deranged or psychotic killers murdering women or children in increasingly hideous way. Apart from the fact that real life serial killing is rare and that when it does occur the murders tend to be committed in less arcane and complex ways than those portrayed in pulp novels, there’s something a little sordid, a little sensationalist, a little voyeuristic about our obsession with what is quite frankly horrific crimes. This unedifying spectacle isn't helped by the fact that so often writers reduce their victims to what is little more than a carcass. So what is their left for someone who loves crime fiction but doesn't want to read about the antics of some psycho who wears other people’s skin? Gangsters? Yeah, but often that sinks into Mockney parody.
A way through this dilemma is shown by Denise Mina in her latest book. Taking care not to give away any spoilers, the novel centres on an investigation into a drug dealing and money laundering gang. Through her description of Morrow watching surveillance footage we get to know the main target of this investigation, a woman called Roxanna Fuenticilla, in quite intimate detail. Which is important because she then disappears. Another character we get to know, again quite intimately, is a local thug who’s just killed and dumped a woman in a lake. These plot strands eventually come together thanks to a sinister professional criminal (and not who the reader thinks it’ll be, this books keeps you guessing until the end).
What Denise Mina achieves, and does it with quite extraordinary aplomb, is to humanise almost all the participants in this crime novel. There's no pantomime serial killing and none of the characters are mere one-dimensional victims. The plot itself is quite ingenious, but what sets it apart is that you end up having at least some sympathy for all the major characters, even those who aren't exactly very nice.
All in all this is a fantastic read and have no hesitation in awarding it 5 out of 5 stars.