"She knows the difference between good and bad. She’s just not sure which she prefers…” So reads the inaccurate cover blurb on Denise Mina’s latest novel, Still Midnight. The novel is, in fact, a tale of a Glasgow kidnapping gone wrong, told from two points of view – that of the perpetrators, who are hapless, unintelligent, fantasist lowlifes; and that of DS Alex Morrow, a neurotic, unpopular yet competent police detective.
The kidnapping is planned by Eddy, a failed person on many counts but, as seen through co-conspirator Pat’s eyes, dangerous. The two men attack a suburban house at night, with the aim of kidnapping a man called Bob. Eddy has it on good authority from his Irish contacts that Bob’s family will pay a ransom of a million pounds to get him back. The third member of the trio is Malki, Pat’s heroin-addicted young cousin, who is to drive the getaway vehicle. Inevitably, the attack goes wrong on several counts, but Eddy and Pat do kidnap someone, and manage to get away with their victim.
Alex is one of the police officers called to the scene of the crime. She’s initially excited because it is her turn for the next case, but her hopes are soon dashed when her unfriendly boss, DI McKenchie, gives the job to her hated colleague DS Bannerman. Alex feels herself to be an outsider as she has achieved her rank on merit, whereas Bannerman is from a police family and so she feels he gets preferential treatment and is “one of the boys” – which Alex very definitely is not, going out of her way to be unpleasant to all her colleagues.
The rest of the story is told in alternating passages from the perspectives of the kidnappers (mainly Pat) and the police (exclusively Alex). I found it very slow-paced, and the sections about the kidnappers quite boring as well as unpleasant. Alex is by far the most interesting, intelligent and (as far as witnesses are concerned) sensitive character in the book – although I really did not like her persistent crude swearing and in particular use of the "c" word – yet the revelations about the shadows in her personal life which give her depth are rather long in coming.
The novel comes to life towards the end, as the pace speeds up with plot twists and turns among the relationships between the kidnappers and their families; and the victims and theirs. I am not quite sure whether I liked this curate’s egg of a book sufficiently to want to read the next in the series, if there is one – it is a fairly standard plot, though the family and friends of the victims are well-observed. I’ll be better disposed to a next book if it focuses more Alex’s personal and professional life, and less on the ins and outs of the tedious activities of stupid but violent villains.
Author website (possibly not updated very recently as this book, just out in paperback in the UK, does not seem to be on it). Among other books, the website features the author's Garnethill trilogy, which I liked very much indeed, and her Paddy Meehan series, which on the basis of having read the first, was not to my taste.