The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina is the second in the Alex Morrow series and it opens in a shocking fashion with a young woman returning to her dead mother’s house, only to find that she is not alone. A nightmare ensues that will engulf several families before anyone can wake up.
Death haunts the opening chapters in The End of the Wasp Season. Disgraced banker Lars Anderson is found hanged in the grounds of his palatial home, following a financial scandal that has affected thousands of people. His death may be front-page news, but there is little sympathy, either for Lars, or for his family.
Meanwhile in Glasgow, a young woman, Sarah Erroll, is found savagely murdered in her large family home in a wealthy suburb. When it is discovered that she has been working as a high-class escort and has hundreds of thousands of Euros hidden under her kitchen table, sympathy wanes for her as well, particularly among the force charged with investigating her brutal murder.
‘So,’ he said stiffly, ‘she was a working girl.’
Morrow nodded reluctantly.
‘Could be anyone then,’ he said, and shrugged
DS Morrow, pregnant with twins, is called in to investigate yet her mind is elsewhere as she has just buried her estranged father, his funeral bringing her back into contact with the members of her family that she would rather avoid. Her past raises its head again when it turns out that one of her oldest school friends was a carer for Sarah Erroll’s mother.
But do the connections go even further? What links the suicide of a wealthy man to the violent death of a young woman and is Kay Murray, one time best friend of Morrow, more involved in this case that she is letting on?
As with Mina’s previous Morrow book Still Midnight, there is a lot of plot here, but plot is not really the main reason to read one of Denise Mina’s books. In fact, the reader knows who killed Sarah Erroll from the start; the question is rather, why was she killed? This then is the joy of Mina’s writing. She creates flawed, believable characters whose motives and thoughts the reader wants to delve into.
Take Thomas, Lars’ fifteen-year-old son, who has benefitted from his father’s lifestyle but has little in the way of parental love and support to show for it. His relief at Lars’ suicide is tempered by concern for his emotionally volatile sister Ella and his mother’s inability to cope without staff to attend to her every whim. His father’s suicide has left him with more questions than answers. Who was Lars really and will Thomas turn out just like him? Thomas is a fascinating character, both repellent and sympathetic, a victim of his father’s like so many others, but also harbouring that same familial violence and anger.
Mina explores themes of parentage and genetics in a subtle and understated manner, asking if we can outrun our background or if there is any use in even trying. Mina avoids the usual tropes and formulas of crime fiction to present more a more character driven story.
Morrow has tried to move on from her childhood, but finds herself regularly drawn back into that world. Kay Murray’s teenage sons become suspects in Sarah Erroll’s murder, simply because of their mother’s working class background.
Morrow was working, she lived in a bought house, had a car. She had gotten away and Kay hadn’t. Morrow was worried that this is what she had come here for, not for comfort or nostalgia or to find out who Sarah was, but to measure herself against Kay, looking for cheap confirmation that, measured and weighed, she was doing better than her old friend.
Sarah Erroll herself finds herself embroiled in a world miles away from her privileged upbringing due to her need and wish to look after her mother in the way she feels she deserves.
Backgrounds can be different; can even be changed, but money, as always, is the pressure point.
Sub plots involving Morrow’s wayward nephew, a revolt among the police department against the boss, Bannerman and a new female police recruit from England means that there is a little too much going on at times for the narrative to flow smoothly. The pace occasionally flags, but as this is part of a series, I can only assume that these plot points will be developed in later books. At times though, the narrative can be confused and confusing, with the reader unsure what relates to the main drive of the story.
That may be Mina’s intention; however, it can make her story laboured. What saves it is her dark thoughtful prose that takes the reader right into the hearts and minds of her characters and lays bare the dark forces that drive human beings to do unspeakable things. This is a complex and compelling psychological crime thriller, which subverts the usual police procedurals to present something more atmospheric, open-ended and questioning.
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