One the best things about crime fiction is its potential for social awareness. Ever since Dashiell Hammett wrote Red Harvest, the detective novel has been able to delve into issues of the here and now. Few carry on that tradition finer than Scottish author Denise Mina, evidence of which can be seen in her latest, The Red Road.
The book starts in 1997, the night of Princess Diana’s death. Rose, a teen prostitute in the rough Red Road projects, kills two men. While the victims were of questionable character, the killings weren’t in self defense. Her attorney takes an interest in her. He gets her the lowest sentence he can, and later, he brings her into his family after her release. We then go forward into near present-day with Detective Inspector Morrow acting as a witness for the prosecution of a gun dealer. Trouble arises when the defendant’s prints are found at the scene of a murder that took place during his incarceration. It is all ties to Rose and that night in 1997.
Like many other characters in Mina’s Morrow series, Rose serves as much as a main character as her inspector. She embodies the debate of nature versus nurture. Through the time juxtaposition, Mina creates her as two different characters, tied by a common history, where this newer Rose was given hope. Much of the book’s tension comes from us wondering if the old Rose will resurface.
Morrow has more of a presence than she did in Mina’s previous Gods & Beasts. We learn that her brother is a known gangster, and that her taking on the investigation puts her reputation on the line. We also get a glimpse of her as a mother. It’s interesting to watch her navigate and use the relationships in her work and life. When she meets up with Rose, it’s electric.
The Red Road is about a lot of meetings and clashes: past and present, psychology and sociology, duty and justice. Mina has created a moral mystery as much as a murder mystery, with few getting off the hook.
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