Author Denise Mina has quietly flown under the radar while continuing to produce intelligent and complex crime fiction centered on Glasgow, Scotland. She has branched out in recent years to graphic novels, penning issues of Hellblazer as well as an adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.
With GODS AND BEASTS, Mina is firmly in her element. Set in the week before Christmas, DS Alex Morrow is called to investigate a brutal crime. A masked gunman wielding an AK-47 is holding up a local post office. In the midst of the robbery, an elderly man is gunned down in front of all the patrons, including the man’s own grandson.
"With GODS AND BEASTS, Mina is firmly in her element.... GODS AND BEASTS is never predictable and truly calls into question the nature of justice."
It is not necessarily the horrific nature of the crime that drives Morrow to pursue the murderer, but more so the need to have a few burning questions answered. Eyewitnesses all report the same story --- the elderly victim actually assisted the robber with carrying out the bags of money and then seemingly bowed down to the thief as his life was cut down by a hail of deadly bullets from his high-caliber weapon. Even more curious is the fact that these same witnesses all felt that the victim may have known the gunman in some way.
Morrow’s initial investigation into the murder of Brendan Lyon reveals a caring man who had dedicated much of his life to fighting social injustice. Why was he cut down so brutally, and what role, if any, did he play with the masked gunman? Little does Morrow realize that she is standing at the precipice of a deadly game of corruption that will threaten to shake the very foundation of all she knows.
The prime witness to the shooting is a wealthy young man named Martin Pavel, a student who has his neck adorned with a strange tattoo that reads “Beast.” It also appears that Pavel has a relationship with the Lyon family and lives all alone in a mansion with far too many rooms than he will ever need. Morrow and her colleagues seem to constantly walk away from each interview in this case with more questions than answers.
What Mina does best, and where she has garnered her reputation, is writing novels about social classes and local crime, centering them on strong female characters. GODS AND BEASTS exemplifies this as the title itself is straight from the mouth of Aristotle: “Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts.” Morrow is clearly on the outside looking in with this case.
Lyon's death begins to cross wires with the case of corrupt politician Kenny Gallagher. Gallagher is accused of adultery, among other things, and his relationship with Lyon may not be altogether wholesome. Mina has spun a web of corruption, deceit and intrigue that is so complex that to pull any strand will shake out a new list of names at every level of Glasgow society. Will Alex Morrow continue to taunt this web at the risk of possibly exposing her own department? GODS AND BEASTS is never predictable and truly calls into question the nature of justice.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 1, 2013