15 de gener de 2016

Scottish crime fiction known as tartan noir

[Dayton Daily News, 14 january 2016]

Vick Mickunas

The book: “Blood, Salt, Water” by Denise Mina (Little, Brown, 297 pages, $26)

Two of my favorite crime novelists are Scottish — they write what are affectionately known as tartan noirs. Ian Rankin lives in Edinburgh and sets many of his books there. Denise Mina is in Glasgow and usually sets her stories there. Her latest “Blood, Salt, Water” is a bit of departure — it mainly takes place in the seaside town of Helensburgh.
I had not heard of Helensburgh. I asked the author about it because I assumed that she had made it all up. It sounds like a strange place. Mina assured me that the city is real. As you might expect, the story opens with a murder. Many crime novels do.
The murder rate in these two metropolises has plunged. The most recent tabulations from 2014 show there were just 61 murders in the entire country of Scotland that year. The murder rate in Edinburgh has dropped significantly. Mina’s Glasgow, a city with a harder edge, has also seen a decline in killings. Even so these tartan noir thrillers often begin with that seemingly rare Scottish event, the murder.
In “Blood, Salt, Water,” a woman is abducted by criminals. They take her to the dunes by a deep lake. She doesn’t comprehend their intentions are homicidal. As they execute this vile deed, we see things from the viewpoint of Iain, the thug who eventually kills her.
Iain is an ex-con playing a role: “Iain was being the most frightening men in prison: expressionless hard nuts who gave no warning before they went for you.” But this was difficult: “looking down at the unconscious woman, he thought of those men. He’d envied them. They never seemed to feel anything. He wondered now if their blank eyes hid a despair so profound it squeezed the air from their lungs. If self-disgust weighed like a brick in their guts. Probably not.”
Ian Rankin writes “whodunnits” that feature the now retired Edinburgh homicide detective John Rebus. The author told me he doesn’t know who actually commits a murder until he writes the ending for each book. Mina employs a different approach. We already know “whodunnit.” Iain was the killer. Mina is intrigued by the why of how killers kill; the “whydunnit.”
During the Victorian era, Helensburgh was a gilded playground for British tycoons. The remains of their massive mouldering mansions now adorn the hillsides of the town. Some of the action in this story takes place in one of those decaying cobwebby piles. A former resident has returned from America to deal with her mother’s estate. Or so she claims.
“Blood, Salt, Water” is the latest installment in Mina’s series featuring the Glasgow homicide cop Alex Morrow. Morrow is investigating the case of a missing person. The trail of clues leads her to Helensburgh and through a circuitous route, to the killer Iain, who grew up there. This is a wickedly sinuous story.
“Even Dogs in the Wild,” Ian Rankin’s new Rebus book, will be out Tuesday, Jan. 19.

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