Anyone who elects to read a second book by Denise Mina deserves what they get. The Red Road is my ninth. I know what I am getting when I turn to that first page. And yes, I will read a tenth and an eleventh.
Of course, what people get out a Denise Mina mystery depends on how they read it. On the surface, her novels are mercilessly cynical mysteries that reveal corruption at every level of society. A person could despair of humanity on a diet of her books alone. But that is only on the surface, dig deeper and her characters become complex blends of good and evil. That is why I keep reading.
The Red Road, like all her novels, takes place primarily in Glasgow. This is a grim and desperate Glasgow, a Glasgow of pimps, drug dealers, money launderers, murderers and a dispirited and corrupt police force. The Glasgow Tourism Strategy Group might consider bribing her to relocate her next series.
It all begins in 1997, the night Diana died. Julius McMillan is an attorney and worried that he might be needing his own lawyer soon. He is called into to represent a young offender, Rose Wilson. Rose is a 14 year-old girl who has just killed two men in one night. But before they talk about the case, they share a moment of grief for Diana and in that moment, he really sees Rose, recognizes her and decides to save her as best he can and perhaps save himself.
In the present, Alex Morrow, the featured detective in Mina’s third detective series, is testifying in an open and shut money laundering, arms dealing case. The defendant is Michael Brown who had just a few years earlier been released for the murder of his brother, one of the men Rose killed all those years ago. From the beginning, we know some of the answers Morrow will be seeking as she investigates the mystery of how the fingerprints of a man locked up in jail happened to be at the scene of the newest murder she is assigned to investigate, but it would never be a Mina novel if it were that simple.
Complex plots and even more complex characters, the arc of the present rooted in the mistakes of the past, these are all what I expect from a Denise Mina novel and The Red Road delivers.
I was most taken by Rose, an intelligent, hard-working and loyal woman who loves quite fiercely. Given her childhood in care homes and prison and the way her innocence was abused, she is surprisingly resilient and tender. But she is also a multiple murderer–something we cannot forget.
Mina writes her characters in a way that your heart breaks for them, particularly some of the most damned by society. She has less compassion for the corrupt on the police force, but that is as it should be. The police are entrusted with protecting the community, not exploiting and abusing it. That abuse of trust offends Mina and her detective Morrow–as it should.
The Red Road is a good book. I recommend it to fans of noir mysteries. She is one of the better mystery writers of today and I always look forward to her books. The Red Road is very much a Mina novel, bleak and tightly plotted with compelling characters. It is, in some ways, less grim. The worst crimes were in the past, but they brought forth a tragic and bitter fruit.