Author: Denise Mina
Copyright Year: 2013
Review By: Sue Turnbull
31st August 1997
Rose Wilson is fourteen, but looks sixteen. Pimped out by her ‘boyfriend’ and let down by a person she thought she loved, she has seen more of the darkness in life than someone twice her age. On the night of Princess Diana’s death – a night everyone will remember – Rose snaps and commits two terrible crimes. Her life seems effectively over. But then a defence lawyer takes pity and sets out to do what he can to save her, regardless of the consequences.
DI Alex Morrow is a witness in the case of Michael Brown – a vicious, nasty arms dealer, more brutal and damaged than most of the criminals she meets. During the trial, while he is held in custody, Brown’s fingerprints are found at the scene of a murder in the Red Road flats. It was impossible that he could have been there and it’s a mystery that Morrow just can’t let go.
Meanwhile, a privileged Scottish lawyer sits in a castle on Mull, waiting for an assassin to kill him. He has sold out his own father, something that will bring the wrath of the powerful down upon him.
It’s temping to describe it as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo effect, since the character of the damaged, not entirely trustworthy, female victim/avenger is cropping up with increasing frequency in crime fiction at the moment. And she is up front and off centre in both Denise Mina’s latest thriller. which share a number of other interesting commonalities.
I’ve been an admirer of Mina’s writing ever since her startling debut in Garnethill which won the British Crime Writers Association John Creasey Award for the best first crime novel in 1998. Garnethill also featured a psychologically damaged heroine, but one who commanded our attention throughout, without the distraction of alternative points of view.
In The Red Road, Mina’s twelfth book, her canvas is much bigger, more ambitious, but in the end, less focussed and satisfying. While it opens on the day that Princess Diana died in 1997, with the 16 year-old Rose Wilson, who only looks 14, about to kill for the first time, we are soon immersed in a confusion of characters and situations which appear to have only the most tenuous of connections to what has gone before.
To Mina’s credit, all the puzzle pieces do eventually fall into place. Sadly, after being tied in knots by the convolutions of a plot which appeared to encompass most of the Glasgow constabulary and the criminal underworld, by the last page I wasn’t sure if I cared, even though Mina’s observations of the incidental are as precise as ever. Sitting in a car in the dark city centre on a bleak Saturday night Rose watches “a yellow burger box crab-scuttle from the mouth of a dark alley and make its way across the pavement to the curb.” It’s a poetic wasteland moment.