The Less Dead by Denise Mina
My go to rec for an overall Tana French comp is Denise Mina. While French is an American-Irish writer and Mina is a Scottish writer, they both have extensive back catalogs of police procedurals and standalones and write mysteries with a darkish pen that are really explorations of human behavior, with layered characters that are different levels of flawed.
Both of Mina’s last standalones have opening hooks I couldn’t resist. In this case, a woman who reaches out to an agency to set up a meeting between her and her birth mother’s sister for the first time and discovers said aunt is only meeting with her because she found out she’s a doctor and wants access to the database to prove a cop killed her sister all those years ago. Not the family reunion Margot was hoping for.
Margot was already having a rough go. She’s pregnant, but she hasn’t told her boyfriend, as they’re in a separation period because he called the police on his brother for a domestic abuse incident. His brother happens to be partnered with Margot’s best friend, and she felt betrayed that he broke her confidence. Her adoptive mother has also just passed, and she’s clearing out the house and struggling with grief and questions of why her birth mother placed her up for adoption months before she was murdered.
Readers are plunged into Margot’s chaotic life. Margot is a character who never did what I wanted her to do, but part of why Mina writes crime novels I enjoy so much is that while the characters don’t behave how I want, they do make sense and force me to understand other people’s struggles and lives. Her aunt Nikki is a recent-ish sober woman who takes Margot into her past of teen prostitution and drug use and what it’s like to be the women society doesn’t care about. Meanwhile, Margot’s birth mother’s murder remains unsolved all these years later, with Nikki still receiving threatening letters from the killer…
Mina delivers an absorbing mystery/crime novel and exploration of a grieving woman at an impasse in her life while showing us Glasglow’s drug history. (Content warnings: stalking, suicide mentioned as threat (no detail), past disordered eating, domestic abuse, rape cases, teen prostitution, and addiction.)
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