Sunday, May 8, 2016

Blood Salt Water (Alex Morrow, #5)Blood Salt Water by Denise Mina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Lucy and Morrow smiled at each other, not warmly, just an acknowledgement that they were both there and both human."

I love Blood, Salt, Water (2015). Denise Mina's outstanding prose still holds its own against even the most accomplished "real" literature. The unremarkable The Red Road was just a temporary failure and Ms. Mina is back to the brilliance of The End of the Wasp Season and Gods and Beasts.

Although the novel begins with the brutal murder of a woman on the Loch Lomond dunes, this murder is not the main focus of the plot. DI Alex Morrow is working on the disappearance of a Spanish woman, Roxana Fuentecilla, who had set up a business in Scotland, and is under investigation by the Met and the Serious Fraud Office. The police are hoping to retrieve a significant amount of money and thus relieve some of their budget pressures.

To me, the most interesting thread in the plot - one of the most compelling I have encountered in quite a long time - concerns the mysterious behavior of a woman who comes back to Scotland after a long stay in the U.S. Susan Grierson, in her late middle age, is the focal point of several crucial developments in the novel. The virtuoso scene where under the influence of cocaine she provides sexual favors - with a delicious twist! - to another main character is unforgettable. All threads seamlessly merge at the end and the neat solutions to the mysteries are convincing and plausible.

Blood, Salt, Water is not a book that one reads to relax and leisurely pass the time; one can't just let the eyes glide over the pages. Reading this book requires work, but the effort pays off fabulously. The psychological portraits of the characters are absolutely convincing and the reader can learn a lot about the motives of human behavior. The depiction of Helensburgh (an actual seaside town northwest of Glasgow) and the characterizations of the local residents are so vivid that I feel I have known the town and its people for a long time. Ms. Mina has a perfect ear for dialogue and she captures exactly how people talk. Particularly stunning are the two conversation that DI Morrow has with Ms. Fuentecilla's children and - later in the novel - with Hester Kirk's daughters.

But by far the best thing about Denise Mina's prose is that she understands that weakness is the defining feature of us humans, that all of us are weak in one way or another, that utter stupidity, vanity, envy, and all ways of greed are the most natural human traits. Ms. Mina does not condone weakness but neither does she condemn it. She understands. She knows. The stunning sentence that I used for the epigraph sounds awkward as a quote, but it is one of the best sentences I have read in a long time: "an acknowledgement that they were both there and both human."

This extremely well written novel transcends the mystery genre, yet it also works great as a mystery. I have been toying with the idea of rounding my rating up to the five-star level reserved for literary masterpieces, but the novel is probably not as uniformly magnificent as Ms. Mina's Garnethill.

Four and a half stars.

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