Posted: April 28, 2014 in Book Awards, review, Scotland

41Cg4odPZZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The Red Road is the fourth book in Denise Mina’s Detective Inspector Alex Morrow series set in Glasgow. It was intended that the Red Road blocks of flats were to be demolished as part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, but that idea has now been scrapped. The blocks were built in the 1960s and if the architects, politicians and administrators, who planned their construction had been required to live in them for a few weeks they would have been demolished much earlier.

The Red Road narrative is in two time frames and the story is told from several perspectives. The reader is informed at the start that on the night Princess Diana dies in her car crash in Paris, Rose Wilson a 14 year child prostitute stabs to death young Pinkie Brown, another 14 year resident in a children’s home, and then her abuser Sammy.

Sixteen years later DI Alex Morrow is giving evidence against Pinkie’s younger brother local gangster Michael Brown, who had served time for his brother’s 800px-Red_Road_flats_2murder. But Michael’s fingerprints have turned up all over a murder scene high in the half demolished Red Road flats. The murder of Aziz Balfour has occurred while Michael was held in prison so this is impossible? Meanwhile Robert McMillan, whose father Julius represented Rose when she was tried for the murder of Sammy, is hiding in a remote castle. He expects to be murdered as he has exposed a money laundering ring to the SOCA [Serious Organised Crime Agency]. His wife Francine, and three children are attending  his father Julius McMillan’s funeral along with the children’s nanny, Rose Wilson.

I thought at first that I was confused by the plot because I had not been concentrating as much as I do when reading translated crime fiction, but later I realised the degree of complexity was the reason. Obviously diving into book four of a series causes problems and I wish now I had read the earlier books, one of which The End of Wasp Season won both the 2011 Martin Beck Award in Sweden, and the 2012 Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year. Once I had got further into the book everything became much clearer and I found this excellent example of tartan noir very dark and depressingly factual.

Pakistan could be a rich country, you know, a safe country. All over the world, they’ve raised enough money to build three houses for every single family made homeless by the earthquakes but they’re still living in tents, children dying of cold and hunger.

It’s bastards like Dawood who let that happen.

But you can’t prove it because he never touches anything, someone else holds the money, someone else holds the drugs, the guns, the everything.  

The story gives an account of a corrupt police force, corrupt alcoholic lawyers, and the depressingly bleak lives of those who are not in that rich elite that is comfortably insulated from real life. The Red Road is a good story that needs some degree of concentration from the reader to follow all the characters, and their interactions.

I did however enjoy the character of Alex Morrow, a cop with one year old twins and whose half brother  is a notorious gangster, and is surrounded on all sides by problems. I may go back to read the earlier books in the series. 

Every police force had corruption issues, but Strathclyde’s were over giant bags of greasy bank notes, not fripperies of social status. It seemed more honest to Morrow, somehow.    

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Very distinctive voice and great sense of atmosphere.

  2. kathy d. says:

    I am looking forward to reading this one by Denise Mina, one of my favorite mystery writers. On the three prior books featuring Alex Morrow, I did not like the first one. Thought The End of the Wasp Season an unusual but well-written book. And liked the one after that.

  3. crimeworm says:

    Please do read the earlier books in the Denise Mina Alex Morrow series; even better is her Party Meehan series about a young reporter in the ’80s. To my mind, Denise Mina, along with Ian Rankin, us by far the best in the Tartan Noir scene. Val McDermid must warrant a mention too, although I’ve kind of gone off the Tony Hill series – though maybe it’s time to give it another bash!

  4. crimeworm says:

    Sorry that should be Paddy Meehan not Party – damn Kindle predictive text! Incidentally I used to live in the Red Road flats and some of the neighbours – particularly the asylum seekers – were lovely, generous people. I get irritated when people who have never lived there denigrate them – not this blog, obv, more politicians and suchlike. I had some wonderful times there.

    • Norman Price says:

      Thanks Crimeworm. I will try the Paddy Meehan books when I have time.
      My rant was not about the residents but the design of the flats. Relatives of mine lived in a slightly smaller similar block in South London and it must have held a world record for the lifts breaking down. Thriving communities of back to back housing which could have been improved were instead torn down to create these monstrous blocks.

  5. I was completely bowled over by her Garnethill thrilogy, but I didn’t like the first Alex Morrow book very much. I am not sure I am going to give it more chances. There are so many other books out there… 🙂

  6. kathy d. says:

    Actually, Denise Mina’s first trilogy, the Garnethill series is excellent.

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