The End of the Wasp Season is a seriously good novel. You don't win a Theakston's Old Peculiar crime novel of the year award without that, as Denise Mina did in 2012, but even so, this is an extraordinarily complete book.
What makes it so good? Well, everything. Characterisation, convincing dialogue, killer themes, tension, honesty in the writing and a sharp intelligence running throughout a multi-layered, textured narrative.
The skeleton of the story is an old-fashioned police procedural, focused on the investigation of the unusually violent murder of a young woman in her own home and the subsequent discovery of vast quantities of cash in the house. This is a skeleton carrying prodigious muscle and strong vital organs.
First, there is the violent murder of a young woman in a remote house in Scotland. Second there is the suicide in Kent of a wealthy businessman brought down by the sub-prime mortgage scandal that triggered the financial crisis. The impact of the suicide - and the financial fall-out - is felt keenly by his family who are bewilderingly ripped from the moorings of their status and money.
Mina gives the reader an early view of the inter-relatedness of these two events as she hands the task of solving the murder to Alex Morrow, a Glasgow Detective Sergeant pregnant with twins and caught between overly politicised management and largely under-engaged junior officers. Alongside this she has to deal with tremors in her own family as well as a brush with her past. Morrow is one of the most convincing fictional cops I've come across. There's no fast and easy cliché to her, instead an acknowledgement of the complexity and ambiguity of the world and a refreshing willingness to confront it.
Mina paints a bleak landscape, one in which all actors seem to face existential angst, whether the family of rich, now-dead financier Lars Anderson or her estranged schoolfriend Kay Murray, struggling to keep her three children on the straight and narrow in a tough world. Although her voice is empathetic, she doesn't shield her readers or characters from cruelty, whether of thought, word or deed.
This is my first brush with Mina, and it won't be the last, even if her stark, naked description of a tough and uncompromising world isn't always easy to digest. But the intelligence and power of the writing and story-telling make it a worthy investment. The End of the Wasp Season is one of the very best books I've read in recent years, and I commend it to the house.