The tenth novel by Glaswegian crime writer Denise Mina, and the third to involve DS Alex Morrow. Gods and Beasts delivers a tale of moral corruption, murder and complicity which explores the connections between the worlds of politics, the police force and the criminal underworld. This novel is one overtly concerned with the institutional mesh of corporations and big governance than some of Mina’s previous work. Where The End of the Wasp Season saw an examination of the credit crunch and banking scandals with only a sly political undertone, Gods and Beasts approaches the relationship between politicians, the media and the legal system much more directly and, at times, borders on the satirical.
Gods and Beasts begins with three seemingly unconnected events. The first of these, the murder of a grandfather in a post office robbery on Great Western Road, is coloured by Morrow’s initial confusion and incomprehension; this grandfather’s last act was to offer assistance to an armed robber, handing his young grandchild to a complete stranger in the process. Mina then introduces Kenny Gallagher, a left wing agitator of a politician, accused in the media of conducting an illicit affair with a young intern. Gallagher’s subsequent law suit against a national newspaper, despite the blatant truth of the allegation, sets in motion a narrative concerned with the Glaswegian establishment. Gallagher is given the ironically ambiguous position in the text: idealism contrasting with pragmatism but with the inevitability of corruption to come. Mina’s examination of the corruption in the public services is also carried into the third and final strand of her narrative: two officers under Morrow’s command are embroiled in a blackmail plot, after making the ill-judged spur-of-the-moment decision to steal the drug money found in a suspect’s car. These three concurrent narratives are slowly and skilfully drawn together by Mina, who never relies on coincidence or plot convenience to drive her writing forwards.
As Morrow’s investigation progresses, Mina, as in her previous books involving Morrow, shifts some of the focus from her character’s professional to her private life. The novel sees its lead protagonist struggling under the new pressures: the fatigue of motherhood, her role as lead investigator and her troubled yet increasingly intriguing relationship with half-brother and gangster, Danny McGrath. The developing relationship with McGrath is an aspect that is clearly emerging as more central to the Morrow novels, hinting at an interesting conflict in Morrow as her moral authority is undermined by a kinship and familiarity with what is, after all, a celebrity of the criminal world. The strength and tenacity of Morrow’s character, the continuation of aspects of Mina’s larger canvas all capture readers’ emotional investment. Morrow’s character is psychologically complex; she is also grounded. Here is no ego-driven detective playing by her own maverick rules to capture a brilliantly evil arch-nemesis. Unburdened by many of the clichés of the crime genre, Mina’s novel works wonderfully when focused on Morrow and her job, which the DS inspector brusquely states “is not about being popular” but “about being decent.”
However, perhaps even more impressively, Gods and Beasts does not rely on Morrow alone but has an expanded set of supporting characters who are employed cleverly throughout the novel. For any admirer of Mina’s previous work, a brief cameo appearance by Paddy Meehan, of The Field of Blood, The Dead Hour and The Last Breath, proves fulfilling and, hopefully, might signal a return in Mina’s writing in the near future.
Gods and Beasts is a novel which represents not only how high-quality and enjoyable Mina’s work has become in itself, but reflects why fine Crime writing is so popular and compelling.