Still Midnight – Denise Mina

It is Ramadan in sleepy, suburban Glasgow when a brutal home invasion staged by Pat and Eddie (two white men) throws everything into chaos. They are demanding two million pounds of the Anwar family, which seems to not have access to such resources and accidentally fire a bullet through the hand of the family’s youngest daughter before kidnapping the patriarch, Aamir, declaring it to be retribution for Afghanistan, and fleeing into the night. Of course, the family is from Uganda. Is the middle-class veneer hiding deep pockets full of illicit activity, is the home invasion a hate crime, or is there something different going on altogether? This is what detective Alex Morrow needs to find out while Aamir Anwar is still alive, if only her superior would give her the lead of the case instead of passing it to his (male) protege.

Mina gives approximately equal space to the stories of Alex Morrow, Aamir Anwar, Pat and Eddie (the kidnappers). The first two make sense, the former because she is our protagonist, and the latter because it is clearly foreshadowing that will have agency in his escape. The last inclusion is made for Pat because of a romantic angle to his story, but largely dissipates the tension that the best crime novels create because the reader knows more about the mystery than does the protagonist. Far be it from me to reject this story structure entirely, but it struck me as representative of larger problems with the book.

I picked up Still Midnight looking for a good crime novel written by a woman since that has been my resolution for the month. In small ways the book met my expectations, with a female protagonist who has to deal with rude coworkers, micro-aggressions, and with an eye for details I’ve not seen in male-written books in the same genre.

My problems arose when the story veered from Alex Morrow’s role in the case because much of it came across as half-realized or far-fetched. For instance, there are multiple plot threads that deal with Alex’ relationships outside the police department, including a failing marriage caused by a recently deceased child that felt airlifted into the story and a half-brother criminal who is loosely connected to the case. Both relationships could be seen as filling in parts of Alex’ character, but they don’t seem to fit into this story. Similarly, Aamir gets flashbacks to his escape from Uganda and the horrors that beset his mother, but while the scenes are moving, they aren’t exactly central to the plot. Then there is a strange, sudden, and largely unexplained romance between Pat and one of the family members. I could go on (e.g., the lack of a sense of place, the lack of depth to the characters other than Alex, how the case returns to Alex seemingly because her colleague doesn’t feel like dealing with paperwork), but will let it rest.

Still Midnight was extremely frustrating. I wanted more of Alex and a fuller sense of her Glasgow, perhaps with the tension building to a breaking point with her husband and her job as she fought these conflicting interests. Instead, Still Midnight offers a promising start, but devolves into a shallow drama punctuated by interesting moments, featuring a too-large cast of uninteresting characters.

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Continuing with my month-plus of only reading books written by women, over the weekend I started reading N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo-award winning novel The Fifth Season. In short: it is mind-blowingly good, combining her penchant for interesting world-building with a leap in the poetry of her writing. I’ve been too busy to just read it in a single sitting, but it is so good that not being able to is making me angry. Stupid responsibilities.

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