Review: The Less Dead by Denise Mina

Title: The Less Dead

Author: Denise Mina

Published: August 18th 2020, Mulholland Books

Status: Read August 2020, courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I loved Conviction so I was eager for the opportunity to read Denise Mina’s newest release, The Less Dead.

In the wake of her adoptive mother’s death, newly separated and pregnant. Glasgow GP Margo Dunlop, decides she wants to meet her biological family. She learns that her biological mother is long dead, but her Aunt Nikki, her mother’s older sister, is eager to connect with her. Their first meeting, in a small room at the reconciliation center, leaves Margo reeling when she is told that her mother, Susan, was a drug addicted prostitute who was brutally stabbed to death just months after Margo’s birth, and Nikki wants Margo’s help to solve her murder.

“It’s a cruel story to tell a stranger. Asking for things. Demanding things. It’s not her problem, all these long-ago things. She’s got enough going on.”

A compelling novel with a noir sensibility, The Less Dead sees Margo reluctantly drawn into her Aunt’s quest to hold someone responsible for Susan’s murder. Uncomfortable with Nikki’s intensity and her biological family’s unsavoury past, Margo’s commitment is half-hearted until she too becomes a target of vile, anonymous letters that appear to be from the killer.

“’When we get killed they call us the ‘less dead’, like we were never really alive to begin with.”

‘We’ refers to sex workers, drug addicts, migrants and the poor, women like Susan and Nikki, and ‘they’ the Glasgow police who routinely turned a blind eye when it came to crimes against women on the street. Susan was one of nine sex workers from the same small area murdered in the eighties. The women themselves feared a serial killer, the police were uninterested, Nikki later became convinced the murderer was a cop. Whomever it is, he has continued to taunt Nikki over the last thirty plus years, and now Margo has his attention and the tension rises as the killer grows increasingly obsessed.

“It doesn’t feel as if she’s looking at someone else at all but a younger self, a splinter Margo.”

Honestly I found Margo to be a frustrating character who, even with the recognition she was under an enormous amount of stress, often made inexplicable decisions. However, I was impressed with the way the author explored the contrast between Margo’s adopted middle class life, and that of her struggling biological family through her. Margo may look almost exactly like her late mother but she had no understanding of life she lead, or the environment she grew up in, and the way in which she is forced to confront her own prejudice, assumptions and authority is intelligent and thought-provoking.

“… we made being outsiders the thing we were. They couldn’t break us or make us lie. We knew who we were.”

It was Nikki who I found the most interesting and authentically portrayed, along with Lizzy and Susan (even though she is not actually present). I felt sorry about the hardships the women experienced, but never found them pitiable, in fact I admired them.

Though not a fast-paced book, The Less Dead is thrilling, with a pervasive sense of unease and a steady increase in tension. Gritty, insightful and absorbing, it’s only the character of Margo that unfortunately let it down for me.

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Available from Hachette: Mulholland Books

Or from your preferred retailer via Book Depository I Indiebound I Booko

Also by Denise Mina reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Conviction by Denise Mina

 

Title: Conviction

Author: Denise Mina

Published: June 25th 2019, Little, Brown & Co

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Sharp, fast-paced, witty and vivid, Conviction by Denise Mina is a lively and engrossing thriller.

Reeling from learning that an old friend, Leon Parker, is assumed to be responsible for the murder-suicide of his two children during her morning coffee on her favourite true crime podcast, Anna McDonald is further devastated when her husband announces over breakfast that he is leaving her, for her pregnant best friend. As she lies on the floor in her hallway considering ending it all, Anna is interrupted by her best friend’s shattered husband, celebrity Fin Cohen and, in need of a distraction from the mornings events, she impulsively decides on a road trip, Fin in tow, with the idea of proving that the producer of ‘Death and the Dana’ has got it all wrong. It’s not the wisest of decisions, especially when a photo of her with Fin goes viral, and now Anna, who used to be someone else, is back on the radar of the woman she believes killed Leon and his family, the same woman who once wanted her dead.

I found Anna to be an utterly compelling narrator for reasons I can’t quite define. Anna is, at least initially, not very likeable, she is unpleasant, rude, and an admitted liar, but well, we meet her on what we assume is probably the worst day of her life. As the story unfolds the reliability of Anna’s narrative remains suspect, but somewhere along the line she earns sympathy, admiration, and eventually trust.

Conviction has more depth than one might expect, exploring themes such as privilege, corruption, mental illness, assault and identity. While the plausibility of the thriller plot may be stretched a bit thin, I found it easy to dismiss any inconsistencies and absurdities. I guessed where responsibility for The Dana’s fate lay fairly early on, but there were other surprises I didn’t see coming, and I was particularly stunned by the circumstances that forced Anna to hide her identity.

I really liked the way in which Mina grounds the novel so thoroughly within modern society and she does an excellent job of exploring the double edged power of social media. The true crime podcast ‘Death and The Dana’ frames the mystery, as Anna and Fin google, tweet, Instagram, and ‘cast as they race across Europe, in their pursuit, and escape, of the truth.

Conviction is a terrific read- entertaining, astute, and inventive. This is the first book I’ve read by Denise Mina, but on the strength of it I have every intention of hunting up her backlist.

++++++

Available from Hachette Book Group US

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko

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