The second in the Alex Morrow series, THE END OF THE WASP SEASON is a book that it would actually be possible to read before the earlier. The opening chapters of the book introduces the reader to the three women at the centre of this story - DS Alex Morrow, Kay Murray who worked for Sarah Erroll and Sarah herself, 24 years old, murdered in a house that she rarely used.
Somehow, however, the focus of the book seems to be Lars Anderson, millionaire banker, disgraced financier, suicide hanging himself from a tree in the garden of his house. Father in a family that's about as dysfunctional as it can possibly get, his son returns from school to a family falling apart, not necessarily just because of his father's suicide, somehow the man's life seems to have had a more profound affect on a son, wife, daughter and mistress.
Needless to say this is an intricate tale weaving together a tangle of lies, deceit, damage, power, influence and moral ambiguity. Mina is renowned for her ability to create a well-drawn, complex and memorable cast of characters - from the main protagonist through to many of the lesser cast members. There's no sign of that ability flagging in THE END OF WASP SEASON. The other element that I've come to expect, particularly following on from the first Alex Morrow book, is a sense of restraint, contemplation, almost a reluctance to get into the evil that human beings can do. That's enhanced by the fragility of so many of Mina's characters. From Kay Murray, childhood friend of Alex's, Kay is a battler. She's not had an easy life, and somehow the tension of her embarrassment at her circumstances viewed by Morrow; her reaction when one of her children is briefly a suspect for the killing of Sarah; her pride and her vulnerability were beautifully executed. As was the character of Thomas, son of Lars, a young man pulled from school to confront the reality of his father's legacy, and the implosion of his family and everything that he thought life was supposed to be. Even down to the surreal experience of he and his mother discovering freezers of food, and working out how to actually prepare a meal - Thomas grows up in front of the reader's eyes, and there's something really quite sad about the way that has to happen.
The restraint of the storytelling in THE END OF WASP SEASON is the thing that really stays with me since I've finished the book. There was also something there - perhaps something about the way that sex and sexual politics started to play such a big part in the potential resolution, stacked up against Morrow's mostly male colleagues seeming disregard for this particular murder that could very well have been telegraphing something pointed. It could also be that I'm reading in something that wasn't ever supposed to be there, but there did just seem to be a little tale of attitude being told here, purposely underplayed, purposely observational and not conversational.
It is, however, not a book that's necessarily devoted to solving the crime. That aspect of the plot, whilst investigated by Morrow, is somehow less important than the why, and the way that circles of influence emanate from the rich and powerful. Perhaps it's a plot for a post GFC world? The way that the ripples of one person's life choices, and influence based simply on their wealth and ruthless use of the power that money can bring, can have repercussions in the most unexpected places.
The problem with picking up any book by Denise Mina is that she has hit so many heights with those that have come earlier, that somehow, sub-consciously there's always an expectation that perhaps this book could be the one that's not quite as good. For this reader, this wasn't that book. Denise Mina continues to write engaging, thought-provoking and always interesting stories.