Red Road - Denise Mina

This is book #4 of the Alex Morrow series & the story is told on 2 fronts. In the present day, Alex is set to testify at the trial of a convicted murderer now up on other charges.

Michael Brown had a tough childhood. In 1997 he killed his brother while they were living in care. Coincidentally, in a nearby alley another murder took place that same night. Roes, a 14 year old from a neighbouring care facility, fatally stabbed her pimp.

The two teens didn't know each other but in flashbacks we learn how subsequent events changed their lives. They ended up with the same lawyer, a man who would use both of them to save his own skin. And the repercussions are causing big headaches for Alex in the present.

She's determined to put Michael away for good this time. Just one teeny tiny problem. He's been in jail for 3 months awaiting trial so how does she explain finding his prints at the scene of a murder committed 3 days ago? 

The case was supposed to be a slam dunk, something she desperately needs. Her life is a bit stressful these days. Professionally, she's working with a new crew who don't seem to like her & are very aware her last partner is now in prison ("Gods & Beasts"). Personally, the twins are now 1 year olds & she resents every moment away from them & her husband. They'er adorable but hard on the wallet & she and Brian are struggling financially. Hanging over everything is her brother Danny who is a well known Glasgow gangster & she'd rather he kept to his side of town.

As the flashbacks continue, we learn how Michael & Rose became pawns for a group of influential men involved in money laundering. They've become even more powerful over the years & begin to feel threatened as Alex digs into the past to solve the fingerprint dilemma. The body count rises as they clean up loose ends & it's up to Alex to connect the dots between the dead before she becomes one of them.

If you're into car chases & shootouts, this is not for you. It's more of a psychological police procedural as Mina uses her lean style of prose to describe the characters as opposed to a gory crime scene. With a few exceptions, none of them is purely black or white. Like most of us, they're a mixture of good intentions & bad decisions, just trying to survive the fallout from their choices. This is scottish noir, kind of a cross between Val McDermid & Stuart MacBride. There is a gritty realism that is pervasive & casts a bleak light on societal issues, particularly in the case of Rose.

Her story is horrific & sad as we watch her be used by everyone in her life. She & Alex are flip sides of the same coin. They're both strong & vulnerable but ended up on opposite paths due to different childhoods.

There is a complex & tightly woven plot about relationships that develop between the characters over 20 years. The author slowly reveals twists that turn the guilty into the innocent, the abused into the abuser. Some of the characters are vile & you desperately want to see them get what they deserve. Others will break your heart.

Alex is her usual prickly self. She just wants to do a good job but because of events from the last book none of her colleagues completely trust her. You get the feeling she's on borrowed time & her superiors will use any excuse to cut her loose. Being a new mom leaves her exhausted much of the time without the energy or tact necessary to survive department politics. By the end, her future is in doubt even though she solves the case.

I'm a fan of many of Ms. Mina's novels. I loved the Garnethill trilogy & thought the last Alex Morrow book was a cracking good read. Maybe it's because she sets the bar so high but this was just ok for me. It's a quick read with her usual economical dialogue & intricate plot but for some reason it just didn't grab me as much as some of the others.

I enjoyed the personal angle of the plot more than the police investigation. I put this down to 2 things: the fact I find Alex more interesting than any of the other characters & personal preference. Mina is incapable of writing a bad book & no doubt many readers will be absorbed by the story of Michael & Rose.

That being said, an "ok" book by this author is still head & shoulders above many of the rest out there & I'll be picking up the next instalment (if there is one?) to see how it all shakes out.