The Mina of the compulsively readable Garnethill trilogy returns with a vengeance in The End of the Wasp Season. With a gutsy protagonist, twin-bearing DI Alex Morrow, as lead in a murder case, Mina strikes yet another blow for effective females in the work environment, albeit tempered with the usual feisty squabbles in the male-dominated Strathclyde Police Department.
A new boss is antagonizing the men, power sitting righteously on his shoulders. Morrow is left to navigate the treacherous middle ground and motivate the troops to solve the late-night murder of a single woman slain by two intruders. While Morrow assembles the details of the case, the suicide of a prominent man creates shockwaves in England. Exposed as a financial crook, Lars Anderson is found hanging in a tree at his estate, a further public humiliation for his wife and two emotionally crippled children. Anderson has wrought consequences of enormous import for his survivors, evading justice but a critical link in an unfolding plot that is both emotionally layered and criminally intricate as Morrow gently tugs on the fragile thread connecting disparate events.
Mina’s novel is richly textured with characters and a sense of place. The murder is integral to the plot, but also as part of a larger theme where the vagaries of human experience accent the randomness of life’s inequities and lives lived on the edge, where bounty never reaches and inspiration is in short supply, the often-overlooked trials of those who struggle with day-to-day survival: “They were told too early that they didn’t matter.” The cast is rife with individuals like Kay Murray, the mother of four teenagers whose past brushes with the law have honed her suspicions, the authorities’ interest in her two boys both terrifying and a cause for rancor. Kay’s existence is marginal but her impact on the story significant, as is the inner turmoil of Anderson’s teenaged son, Thomas, suddenly the man of the house to a fractured family, his helpless rage a palliative to unbearable pain.
DI Morrow faces her own challenges in the workplace and in her private life, the future finally hopeful with the twins snuggled safely in her womb, the inability to forgive the transgressions of a family member wedged like a stubborn pebble beneath her heart. Another victim of randomness and bad luck, the murdered woman is young, beginning anew after her elderly mother’s recent death, her life snuffed out by two strangers who turn deaf ears to her pleas. From that one moment of brutality, layer after layer flows, a river of random circumstances that link poverty and privilege: a flat littered with empty crisp boxes and a mansion filled with expensive artifacts; a dead woman splayed obscenely on a staircase in a thick pool of congealing blood; the advantages of a well-heeled defense lawyer versus the rumpled court-appointed attorney with too many cases.
For all the waste, pain and grief of her characters, Mina reaches into the detritus and pulls out moments of transcendent brilliance, kindness unexpectedly bestowed: “She was more than the beasts of the earth or the indignities of being alive.” In a tale that cracks open the face of civilized society, Mina gives voice to the lost ones, imbuing them with the dignity of shared human experience.