Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina
Review by Scott Montgomery
Denise Mina has proven to be one of the most important writers in international crime fiction. She marries the human and social aspects of the genre like no one else. Her work is political without being preachy, writing about the undercurrents of issues in her home city of Glasgow that are relatable to any place. Her latest, Gods and Beasts, is no exception.
Mina gives us three plot lines in her third novel involving Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow. The book starts with a murder during a post office robbery, where the assailant cuts down an elderly man with an AK 47. The victim’s history, a citizen involved with social change, hints at a connection to another story line involving a progressive politician fighting off (accurate) allegations of his involvement with a seventeen-year-old intern. Long time readers of Denise Mina will be happy to see her other series character, reporter Paddy Meehan, make a few appearances in this plot line. The third story hits close to home, when austerity cuts in the police force help push two officers under Morrow’s watch into stealing some money from a drug dealer and getting themselves blackmailed. Morrow finds herself dealing with all of this and her newborn twins.
What makes all of this work is Mina’s human awareness. She shows her characters in all shades whether copper or villain, with enough insight into their personal lives to push them past those simple definitions. Gods and Beasts also has the social consciousness of her other books. One gets the feeling that the people at large, particularly the disenfranchised, are the really the main recipients of many of the events and their outcomes.
The Glasgow setting also plays an important role. It feels, socially, more like a town than a city, with fewer degrees of separation between coppers, criminals, politicians, and average citizens. Because of this, the collisions and conflicts between them are more intimate and dramatic.
Gods and Beasts works as a believable crime novel that takes one of the genres major ideas, the fallout of bad decisions, and gives it a deeper meaning. It also serves as a current look into Mina’s Glasgow in a way we can relate to, if not recognize in detail. It’s further proof that her reputation is earned.