Friday, 3 April 2015
The Red Road - Denise Mina
Tartan Noir, I suppose, really began with Val McDermid, who in turn built on the work of Ian Rankin and especially William McIlvanney. There are so many practitioners now - MacBride, Black, Ferris - that there even sub-genres. But Denise Mina has to be up there with the very best, purely because she manages to maintain such a high standard.
I have to confess that my heart sank when I realised that The Red Road was going to keep switching the narrative between 1997 and the present day. But the writing was so good, so clever, that it kept me reading, and then when I came upon the central hook (which I obviously can't reveal here) I was well and truly caught. The mark of a writer not trapped by genre is the roundedness of characters. Do they live or do they just perform. Agatha Christie and many more rely entirely on their protagonists in this regard. Mina's protagonist, DI Alex Morrow, on the other hand, is a bit dull, even prosaic. Mina turns this to advantage by making the transitory characters Morrow comes in contact with vivid, even spectacular. For example in The Red Road we have the drunken peer and barrister Anton Atholl, and the superannuated hippy Simon. Even her scrotes are three-dimensional. Take Michael Brown, the dying lifer, whose entire existence has been stolen from him. To make us empathise with him takes writing of the very highest order.