I enjoyed this book enormously. It has taken me a while to get round to Denise Mina and this is the first book of hers that I have read. It certainly won't be the last.
For those unfamiliar with Mina's work, the book is set in Glasgow in 1984 and the time and place are extremely well evoked without ever being intrusive, which gives a real solidity to the book. Another of its great strengths is the believable and well-drawn characters. In particular, the main protagonist, a young, struggling woman journalist called Paddy Meehan, is very well portrayed. She is an ordinary young woman from a poor background, slightly insecure and worried about her weight. She has no spectacular character traits or flaws to make her "interesting" nor does she have a particularly Complicated Personal Life - just the normal situations one might expect her to have to deal with - and yet she is a very engaging and interesting character. I thought her a really excellent creation by Mina, and the other characters are similarly well drawn and plausible.
Meehan works the night shift, and Mina creates a fine "film noir" atmosphere throughout the book. The plot is gripping and (praise be!) both plausible and comprehensible, and the narrative is well constructed, well written and entertaining. It builds the tension very nicely and I was completely enthralled. All in all, this is one of the best crime novels - indeed one of the best novels - I have read for some time. Very warmly recommended.
I really enjoyed the first book in the Paddy Mehan trilogy: The Field of Blood and the slightly overweight, under confident trainee journalist in the sexist environment of the news room in 1980s Glasgow really got under my skin. Denise Mina has come up with an incredibly appealing combination of a thriller mixed with a hint of nostalgia at a particular time in history when everything was changing.
The Dead Hour is set about three years later and Paddy riding in the ‘night call car’, the one that follows the police radio around the city looking for newsworthy stories when they are called to one of the better areas in Glasgow. It seems to be a case of domestic violence, one that the attending police officers aren’t too interested in and despite being disturbed by the woman’s appearance there isn’t a great deal to call in about this on, and well the woman didn’t want Paddy’s help and the man had pressed a £50 note into her hand which Paddy hasn’t declared… until the next morning when a woman’s body is discovered. She was murdered; brutally beaten, tortured and left to die, Paddy has to readjust what she saw against this new knowledge.
What follows is a well-timed mystery set against the back-drop of this Scottish city largely struggling with poverty. Paddy is the only wage earner in her household, and the family’s position looks more precarious when the newspaper is forced to make cuts to the workforce. With office intrigue, a personal life that is over-shadowed by her Catholic upbringing and a fierce ambition which is at odds with society’s ideas of what should be important to a young woman.
I loved the 37 short chapters that move the story along at a pace which simply begged for just another one before I closed the book and although the underlying storyline wasn’t quite as compulsive as the previous one, there was never any doubt that this was a story being told by an assured writer. There are plenty of opportunities for Paddy to put in her black throwaway lines that make these books such a joy to read.
“It was Lord of the Flies without table manners.”
And of course there is plenty of references to the eighties, that decade of superb fashion:
“Paddy saw short ra-ra skirts and ski-pants and nipped waists. It was a bad time for big girls.”
But running through the book is the scourge of drugs, a less welcome aspect of the decade which is possibly why I didn’t enjoy this story quite so much. Reading about drug dealers and their petty rivalries and the effects on those who fall under their spell just isn’t really my cup of tea, although I’m sure that Denise Mina has accurately captured them in all their glory as she has done with the local police who have a whiff of corruption surrounding them.
“You’re only a year older than me. How come you dress like Val Doonican?”
He sat back and smiled at her, pulling his V-neck straight. It wasn’t his usual toothy matinee-idol smile but a coy asymmetric face crumple. “I’m a polis. This gear is cool in the polis.”
As this book ends on a bombshell, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be reading the last episode of this trilogy, The Last Breath, in the not too distant future and I can tell you I big plans to investigate the entire back-catalogue of work. After all if I can be captivated by a book that focusses on my least favourite aspect of crime I know for sure that this is one author that will be forever on my watch list!
on 14 December 2013
Paddy Meehan is a proper journalist but still she is on the night time drive around, responding to the police radio, chasing calls for a story. Then she visits a house in Bearsden where a domestic has been called in. A woman with a bruised face turns the police away and the man at the door offers Paddy £50 to turn a blind eye. She takes it. Then the woman turns up dead.
Feeling responsible and guilty, Paddy investigates the crime and tries to avoid being found out for taking the bribe.
This is an excellent 2nd book in this trilogy and sets up well for the third. Gripping, realistic crime, devoid of cliches and shock value.
on 8 August 2006
I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with the reviewer of 'The Dead Hour' and the previous reviews of Denise Mina's other novels. While I agree that she uses her background in criminal law and growing up in Glasgow to great effect, neither of those facts make her a great writer. Many people liked 'Taggart' because it showed places they knew but that didn't make 'Taggart' great nor does it makes these novels great either. Mina's previous plots have consistently rushed to conclusions that often don't ring 100% true; this is once again the case in 'The Dead Hour'. Jarring notes appear as personal bugbears are run out as off-the-cuff social commentaries. The style is consistent with the rest of the crime genre in its simple delivery but it is also occasionally repetitive (count the number of times when something is described as 'buttery', a fairly apt description of Mina's style); and what about the editing?
There are errors in continuity that an editor should have spotted (for example, the villain's shirt changes colour during the final confrontation) and the writing in general shows that Mina is not trained as a writer but as a lawyer. An editor should be developing Mina as a writer, not a means of earning-revenue to Glasgwegian crime fans keen to see their favourite pub and their old school mentioned in print.
This is a good, engaging story and the novels are definitely worth reading but just because you set a novel in Glasgow and have a bit of inside knowledge about a subject doesn't make this novel as great as other reviewers seem to think. Unfortunately, I have just read all three Louise Welsh novels over a weekend, and the gaps in structure and style in Denise Mina's novels are all too clearly highlighted.
on 1 July 2012
Paddy Meehan, 21 years old and on night shift [called the "calls car" shift, and encompassing the Dead Hour, 3 AM], at the Scottish Daily News in Glasgow, makes one of her usual nightly calls, following the police radio in the car and going to the address to which the police have been summoned. This time it appears to be a domestic disturbance, the victim a young, elegant-looking blond woman who, though obviously bloodied, refuses any assistance and, when Paddy catches her eye, seems to slightly shake her head. The police leave, aided by the passing of money into their hands from the man who had answered the door, a scenario replayed moments later when Paddy, herself now the recipient of a 50 pound note, tries to question him. The following morning Paddy learns that the body of the blond woman, a prosecution attorney from a wealthy family, has been found, having been tortured, beaten and left to die, and she is tormented by the possible role she may have played by her quiescence.
To salve her conscience and, not incidentally, hoping to make her mark as an investigative journalist at the same time, Paddy follows up on the story, which expands when another death follows, whether suicide or murder an uncertain matter.
Glasgow, its rougher as well as finer areas, the helplessness of those affected by 1980's unemployment, and the protagonist's Irish Catholic background, are well drawn, as is Paddy, young, rebellious, hardworking [sole support of her parents and several siblings] and ambitious. The author having interspersed a second pov, contained within but separate from its surrounding chapters, was a bit confusing at first to this reader, as the identity of the second voice in unclear [although the reader knows her name] - it is really her relation to the rest of the story thus far that is not clear. It is not until over 50 pages into the book that her identity becomes evident. The effect of this device is to steadily build the suspense which, despite the book having begun at a moderate pace, grows till the hold-your-breath conclusion and a shocking twist before a very satisfying conclusion. As for that cliffhanger in the last line, the resolution of that will have to await the next book in the series, which I will eagerly await.
The Dead Hour is the second in the Paddy Meehan series, following Field of Blood, and Ms. Mina's earlier books, including Deception and the Garnethill trilogy.