Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gods and Beasts (Alex Morrow, #3)Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Categorizing Denise Mina's "Gods and Beasts" as a mystery novel is a bit (may I say "wee"?) misleading. The book is much more than that. Yes, there is a police procedural thread in the plot, and the initial scene of a shooting in a Glasgow post office provides a framework for the novel. Yet Ms. Mina de-emphasizes the mystery aspect, and instead delivers a powerful study of human weakness and corruption.

I found "Gods and Beasts" a little uneven. About a third into the book I was ready to proclaim it a literary masterpiece of English-language fiction. Then, my enthusiasm waned, only to return, a bit subdued, toward the end. I am planning to read the book again in a few months. Reading Ms. Mina's prose is a pleasure and I am sure I will discover things I have missed.

There are four threads in the plot: Alex Morrow, who has just given birth to twins, is trying to solve the case of the post office shooting. Two DC's from DS Morrow's department get involved in criminal activity. An accomplished politician fights for his political life because of sexual affairs he is accused of. Finally, there is the most mysterious thread that involves Martin, whose secret gets revealed rather late in the novel. Of course, all the threads harmoniously merge at the end. The plot is immersed in masterfully depicted grim realities of lower-class life in Glasgow that feed the criminal culture.

Ms. Mina's writing is absolutely outstanding. She shows her virtuoso literary skills in the first two chapters; her description of events at the post office crime scene and of an initially routine stop of a suspect car are some of the best I have ever read in the police procedural genre. However, Chapter 10 is totally amazing. To me, the scene when Kenny and Annie visit Malcolm and Moira belongs to greatest fragments of prose in world literature. The scene reflects the depth of loathing between each two of the four people involved, and the rituals of hate they engage in reveal Ms. Mina's uncanny understanding of human weakness. This is literature with the capital "L".

In Denise Mina's prose not a sentence is wasted. Not a word. In a run-of-the-mill mystery novel the author uses five sentences to describe how someone walks from one room to another. Ms. Mina is able to paint a psychological portrait of a person in five sentences. Her prose should be used as teaching material in writing schools.

I have doubts as to the role of mysterious Martin in the structure of the plot (maybe he's needed because of the title, just kidding...) and I am not fond of - from a literary point of view - some later events in that thread. Thus, I am not able to give the novel the highest rating. Unlike "Garnethill", this a flawed masterpiece.

Four stars.

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