The Less Dead

by Denise Mina

Sitting in a shabby adoption agency reception room waiting for an aunt she’s never met, Margo Dunlop is grieving the death of her adopted mother. She is pregnant, but has told no one. She’s fallen out with the baby’s father.

And she’s searching for answers. Answers about her birth mother, Susan, a prostitute who was murdered four months after giving Margo up for adoption in 1989.
The only person with answers is Nikki Brodie, the aunt Margo is waiting to meet. Margo found a packet of letters from Nikki, pleading for help in her adoptive mother’s bedroom. Nikki’s now an hour and 40 minutes late to their meeting.
When she finally arrives, Nikki’s searching for answers, too. Nikki wants justice for Susan. She believes the murderer is a crooked cop named Martin McPhail. She wants Margo to throw her middle-class authority into the case and demand that the Glasgow police prosecute McPhail.
Nine women prostitutes and drug addicts were killed around the same time as Susan; Susan was victim number four.
“See, in New York, back then,” Nikki explains to Margo, “when street people got killed the cops used to mark the file NHI: ‘No Humans Involved.’ Not even human. When we get killed they call us the ‘less dead,’ like we were never really alive to begin with. See, if Susan was a doctor, like you, they’d have brought the fucking army in. You’d be the perfect victim.”
Nikki shows Margo a packet of threatening notes she’s been receiving since Susan’s death. Some come with gruesome artifacts such as a piece of the blanket found under Susan’s body after her murder. Soon, Margo is receiving similar notes. She’s being followed as well.
This book is heart-wrenching and scary at the same time. Margo is completely alone. Her adoptive brother Thomas is working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and has left Margo to clear out their mother’s house and sell it. The grieving Margo finds this almost impossible.
As much as she wants comfort, she doesn’t know how to trust Nikki, a former prostitute and drug addict. She doesn’t know what to make of Nikki’s accusations against McPhail, especially when she discovers that he’s wheel chair-bound.

Author Denise Mina keeps turning up the suspense and the terror factor as as she alternates the ugly notes from the stalker with Margo’s effort to find out who killed her mother. Adding to the suspense is the cat-and-mouse game a friend is playing with an obsessed older, former lover. The friend robbed the man of a lot of money, and has stirred up a rage that could cost her life.

This book is Mina at her best. She can pack so much depth and emotion into a simple scene of two women sitting in a shabby room. The ambivalence the two women feel — trust and distrust, relationship and estrangement, familiarity and alienness — is delicately handled and adds to the suspense.

About the Author: Denise Mina (1966 – )

Denise Mina is the author of a number of mystery and crime novels set in Glascow, Scotland, including THE LONG DROP, STILL MIDNIGHT and GARNETHILL, the first of a trilogy that also includes EXILE and RESOLUTION.

Born in Glascow, her father’s job as an engineer required the family to move frequently.

She left school at 16 and held a variety of jobs until she decided to go to law school at 21. She did research on how female offenders are labeled as mentally ill for a doctoral dissertation at Strathclyde University. She  also taught criminology and criminal law.

She was working on a doctorate, when she started GARNETHILL, which won the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasy Dagger for best first crime novel.

In 2005, she launched a second series featuring newspaper reporter Paddy Meehan and set in the 1980s.

She was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame in 2014.


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