Glasgow's own Denise Mina, whose latest book is "The Dead Hour," is one of the hottest new stars in the galaxy of "Tartan Noir." That is, mysteries as currently written by several Scots. More ferocious and bloodthirsty than most, sporting that black Scottish sense of humor, macabre and sly.
"The Dead Hour" again stars Paddy Meehan, who was introduced in The Field of Blood
. It's still the 1980's, Margaret Thatcher's bleak regime. Paddy is still working at the "Scottish Daily News," but has been promoted from copyboy. She's now a reporter, 21 years old, last and least of the pack, who'd better get herself some ink soon. Or else. She's still Catholic, fat, poorly dressed and sporting a spikey hairdo: the girl really can't trade on her looks. She's trying to succeed in a rough and tumble environment. Her coworkers are Protestant, sexist, hard-drinking, hard-bitten older men, sprung from the working class, as is she. But, although Paddy isn't particularly well-educated, she's smart, insightful and conscientious. She has her instincts and intuitions. And she is, in fact, determined to stand on her own two feet, at the job and in her world. She'd better, as her father and brothers have been laid off, and she's now sole support of her family.
Paddy, least senior reporter, is on the night shift, assigned to chase the police radio wherever it takes her as "The Dead Hour" opens. One night, the radio takes her to a prosperous suburb on a domestic violence call. Two BMWs are parked behind the house. There's a bloody-faced woman visible inside: she doesn't seem to want any help. And there's a handsome, pleasant, well-dressed man at the door: he doesn't want any help either. He gives Paddy a 50 pound note to go away quietly. We're to assume he bribed the cops as well. By next day, the woman has been tortured and murdered. A little preliminary investigation tells Paddy that the cops on call with her seem to have been at a different crime scene. Thus is the plot set in motion. That 50 pound note would do a lot of good at Paddy's house, but she shouldn't have taken it.
Unfortunately, I didn't find the unfolding plot very rewarding. It all devolves into that old devil ruthless drug dealer with friends in high places. And Mina continues that distracting subplot from "Field of Blood."
The element of "The Dead Hour" that I found most appealing is its two pair of sisters. Paddy and Mary Ann, who seems to be bound for the convent. The victim, Vhari Burnett, prominent attorney, and Kate, beautiful cokehead.
Mina continues to use Glasgow as her setting, catching it on the page. As "They were cruising along empty roads to the south bank of the Clyde where a body had been seen floating in the fast-moving water. A cold mist began to descend on the midnight city, a stagnant exhalation that clung to the tops of passing cars. Yellow street lights jostled hard against the thickening dark."
Mina's also still got that old black magic, that audacious sense of humor. Coke addict Kate kills a man with an everyday object never used before in this way, I swear. Then Kate finds cocaine has leveled her nose, as it will. "She took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. Her nose had flattened at the bridge. A glacial deposit of scarlet and white skin sat on her top lid, dried and hard. She prodded it with a fingertip. Solid. No wonder she couldn't sniff or breathe out of her nose. She turned sideways and looked at her profile. Flat as a wall. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She'd get a nose job later, when things got ironed out. They could do amazing things now."
At one point, Mina writes," Paddy felt the pull of the town and really wanted to go to work, wondering what her city was throwing up tonight." Many of us would really like Mina to keep working. We too wonder what her city will throw up tonight.