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Margot is having a thirtysomething crisis: She's burning out at work, a public-health practice; she's just left her longtime boyfriend after discovering he was cheating; and her mother recently died. The only silver lining to her mother's death is that Margot, who was adopted, can finally go looking for her birth mother. What she finds is an imcomplete family--the only per Margot is having a thirtysomething crisis: She's burning out at work, a public-health practice; she's just left her longtime boyfriend after discovering he was cheating; and her mother recently died. The only silver lining to her mother's death is that Margot, who was adopted, can finally go looking for her birth mother. What she finds is an imcomplete family--the only person left is Nikki, her mother's older sister. Aunt Nikki brings upetting news: Margot's mother is dead, murdered many years ago, one of a series of sex workers killed in Glasgow. The killer--or killers?--has never been found, Aunt Nikki claims. They're still at large... and sending her letters, gloating letters that the details of the crime. Now Margot must choose: take the side of the world against her dead mother, or investigate her murder and see that justice is done at last. Darkly funny and sharply modern, Denise Mina's latest novel is an indelible, surprisingly moving story of daughters and mothers, blood family and chosen family, and how the search for truth helps one woman to find herself.


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Margot is having a thirtysomething crisis: She's burning out at work, a public-health practice; she's just left her longtime boyfriend after discovering he was cheating; and her mother recently died. The only silver lining to her mother's death is that Margot, who was adopted, can finally go looking for her birth mother. What she finds is an imcomplete family--the only per Margot is having a thirtysomething crisis: She's burning out at work, a public-health practice; she's just left her longtime boyfriend after discovering he was cheating; and her mother recently died. The only silver lining to her mother's death is that Margot, who was adopted, can finally go looking for her birth mother. What she finds is an imcomplete family--the only person left is Nikki, her mother's older sister. Aunt Nikki brings upetting news: Margot's mother is dead, murdered many years ago, one of a series of sex workers killed in Glasgow. The killer--or killers?--has never been found, Aunt Nikki claims. They're still at large... and sending her letters, gloating letters that the details of the crime. Now Margot must choose: take the side of the world against her dead mother, or investigate her murder and see that justice is done at last. Darkly funny and sharply modern, Denise Mina's latest novel is an indelible, surprisingly moving story of daughters and mothers, blood family and chosen family, and how the search for truth helps one woman to find herself.

30 review for The Less Dead

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    Denise Mina returns to more familiar territory after the runaway success of Conviction as she once again atmospherically evokes the dark, dingy, and seedy underworld of a bygone Glasgow. Margo Dunlop, a doctor, has lost her adopted mother, Janelle, and whilst she is no longer in a relationship with the kind and caring Joe, she is pregnant. This has led to her strong desire to discover more about her birth mother, Susan Brodie, only she is dead, so she is meeting her aunt, Susan's sister, Nikki, Denise Mina returns to more familiar territory after the runaway success of Conviction as she once again atmospherically evokes the dark, dingy, and seedy underworld of a bygone Glasgow. Margo Dunlop, a doctor, has lost her adopted mother, Janelle, and whilst she is no longer in a relationship with the kind and caring Joe, she is pregnant. This has led to her strong desire to discover more about her birth mother, Susan Brodie, only she is dead, so she is meeting her aunt, Susan's sister, Nikki, who gives her a photograph of Susan, Margo is the spitting image of her. Nikki conveys the circumstances of 19 year old Susan's death, 4 months after giving birth to Margo. Susan was a street sex worker, addicted to drugs, abducted and murdered, her body discarded like rubbish at a bus stop in Easterhouse in 1989, one of 9 prostitutes killed by a serial killer at the time. Nikki has been receiving creepy, abusive and malevolent letters from the murderer through the years, with the killer now beginning to send them to Margo too. In her search for identity, Margo, is hungry to know more about Susan, Nikki and her birth family, to know more about their world, what being a sex worker was like, coming to understand that to the police and the public at the time, Susan and the women killed were the 'less dead', never valued, trash, less than human, with their killer never found. Jack Robertson wrote a self published true crime bestseller on the killings, Terror on the Street, a tabloid style, salacious, poorly written book, theorising who he thinks the murderer is, for which he is now being sued. As Margo searches for the truth of what happened to Susan, danger stalks her every step. Mina astutely observes the class differences between the middle class life Margo grew up in, with her adopted mother and brother, Thomas, where she has a voice that is taken seriously, in sharp contrast with Susan and her birth family, whose lives and voices barely register. There is a complexity and vitality to Susan and her birth family and those of other sex workers that defies any easy categorisation or superficial understanding of their lives, such as the ambitious Susan's refusal to see herself as a victim. Margo's relationship with her best friend, Lilah, who regularly steals, is similarly complicated, supportive but carrying competitive and malicious undercurrents. This is a brilliant read, as can be expected from a crime writer of Mina's calibre, thought provoking, with stellar characterisations, such as that of Margo, Nikki and Lilah. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Random House Vintage for an ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ceecee

    Margo is adopted, it’s a good adoption and she’s succeeded in life, becoming a doctor. Her birth mother was a drug addict and sex worker and was killed many years ago. Her sister Nikkie believes that her murderer is ex-police Officer Martin McPhail, that the Glasgow police force cover this up and so Nikkie wants Margo’s help in proving this. Margo is reluctant to get involved, her Aunt has never been in her life until now but she finds herself drawn into an unfamiliar world. This is a dark and g Margo is adopted, it’s a good adoption and she’s succeeded in life, becoming a doctor. Her birth mother was a drug addict and sex worker and was killed many years ago. Her sister Nikkie believes that her murderer is ex-police Officer Martin McPhail, that the Glasgow police force cover this up and so Nikkie wants Margo’s help in proving this. Margo is reluctant to get involved, her Aunt has never been in her life until now but she finds herself drawn into an unfamiliar world. This is a dark and gritty novel that does not shy away from presenting the reality of life for a sex worker like Susan. These are the ‘less dead’ whose fates are not investigated fully as they are seen as unworthy of much effort. The author cleverly presents the contrasting worlds of Nikkie and Margo in every possible way. Margo has the advantages of a good education, an excellent career and high expectations of life versus Susan and Nikkie growing up in care, abused and then facing a life on the streets. It’s light and shade and initially Margo runs to the light but is drawn into a shadowy world to get the answers she craves. The characters are really good, I admire Nikkie who is brave and dogged and Margo becomes braver and bolder as the story progresses and becomes more likeable as a consequence. She is a very different person at the end of the book. , Margo’s friend is in an abusive relationship demonstrating that abuse has no barriers due social background but Lilah does not see herself as a victim, she stands up for herself which she has in common certainly with Nikkie and maybe also Susan. As the storyline progresses several very creepy and threatening events occur and the tension and suspense escalates. The quality of the writing is very good as it’s realistic and as dark as the places Margo’s search takes her to. Overall, another very good novel from Denise Mina. It’s compelling and compulsive reading. With thanks to NetGalley and Random House Vintage, Harvill Secker for the ARC.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Louise Wilson

    Margot is having a thirty something crisis: she's burning out at work; she's just split with her boyfriend who was cheating on her; her mother had recently died. Margot was adopted. She can finally find out who her birth mother was. This story examines what it's like being adopted and the impact it has on the birth family members. The pace flows along smoothly and the characters and plotline are believable. Set in Glasgow, the descriptions of the city were spot on. Denise Mina knows how to pull Margot is having a thirty something crisis: she's burning out at work; she's just split with her boyfriend who was cheating on her; her mother had recently died. Margot was adopted. She can finally find out who her birth mother was. This story examines what it's like being adopted and the impact it has on the birth family members. The pace flows along smoothly and the characters and plotline are believable. Set in Glasgow, the descriptions of the city were spot on. Denise Mina knows how to pull a reader in and not let go until you've turned the last page. This is a quick, easy and enjoyable book to read. I would like to thank NetGalley, Random House UK, Vintage Publishing and the author Denise Mina for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anna Luce

    The Less Dead is a gripping, if bleak, piece of tartan noir. When sex workers, drug addicts, migrant workers, and otherwise marginalised groups are victims of murder, they are called the 'less dead'. Their deaths are less important, not as 'impactful'. Denise Mina's novel, in a similar vein to recent releases such as Long Bright River, is less interested in its 'serial killer' storyline and more concerned with depicting the realities and experiences of women whose lives have been punctuated by s The Less Dead is a gripping, if bleak, piece of tartan noir. When sex workers, drug addicts, migrant workers, and otherwise marginalised groups are victims of murder, they are called the 'less dead'. Their deaths are less important, not as 'impactful'. Denise Mina's novel, in a similar vein to recent releases such as Long Bright River, is less interested in its 'serial killer' storyline and more concerned with depicting the realities and experiences of women whose lives have been punctuated by sexual abuse, violence, and addiction. Set in Glasgow, the novel introduces to thirty-something Margot Dunlop, a doctor still grieving the recent death of her mother. Margot is struggling to cope, with her break up from Joe, her longterm boyfriend, and with her pregnancy. She finds herself wanting to learn more about her birth mother, Susan, only to learn that she was brutally killed years before. Susan's was one of the nine victims of a serial killer who preyed on sex workers. Since Susan's death Nikki, Susan's older sister, has received a string of menacing letters who could only have been written by the murderer. While Nikki seems eager to get to know her niece, a disbelieving Margot is hesitant to venture into a 'world' she thinks little of. When Margot also starts to receive crude letters, she's forced to reconsider. As Margot learns more of Susan, a young woman who refused to labelled as a victim, and her birth family, she finds herself challenging her own biases. Mina presents her readers with a thought-provoking interrogation of class. The women she writes of, their struggles and traumas, are rendered with striking empathy. Margot, however, comes across as a far less nuanced character. Her remoteness seemed unwarranted and unexplained. She's curt to the point of being brusque, she makes a few decision that aren't truly delved into, making her seem out of character for the sake of the plot. Nikki, by comparison, not only felt truly real, but she's really admirable. Margot's relationship with her 'problematic' best friend and her ex detracted from the overall the story. These two characters didn't seem all that believable. While the third person present tense narration did add a sense of immediacy, or urgency if you will, to the novel, it did occasionally did frustrate me. There are certain conversations that don't have quotations marks and they also became a bit gimmicky (it made sense in certain scenes, but the more this happened the less 'meaningful' it became). Another pet peeve of mine were the sections from the 'culprits' perspective. These were brief and struck me as salacious, as in 'glimpse the thoughts of a deviant mind' (as if this individual's letters didn't convey their state of mind). Mina's story is certainly evocative and gritty. The scenes focused on Nikki were easily my favourite. Margot's 'personal' struggles, on the other hand, just didn't grab my interest. Perhaps this is because I didn't particularly warm to her character, whose wooden personality reminded me of the narrator of Long Bright River. Nevertheless, I did find Mina's examination of the way in which women such as Nikki and Susan are treated by their society to be both incisive and affecting. While Mina doesn't shy away from portraying the stark realities and daily horrors of addiction and prostitution, she doesn't make her characters into 'pitiable' stereotypes. The thriller elements give the narrative an element of suspense, and the tension between Margot and those connected to Susan did gave the story a certain 'edge'. Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    Denise Mina is one of the most reliable crime writers working today. I've been reading her for more than a decade and she never disappoints. You always know you will get something full and complex and interesting and different. Like one of her other recent books, THE LONG DROP, THE LESS DEAD changes up the typical crime novel structure. It's not a procedural and it's only sort of a mystery. What Mina is interested here is the way women are victimized, how they accept or refuse that role, and how Denise Mina is one of the most reliable crime writers working today. I've been reading her for more than a decade and she never disappoints. You always know you will get something full and complex and interesting and different. Like one of her other recent books, THE LONG DROP, THE LESS DEAD changes up the typical crime novel structure. It's not a procedural and it's only sort of a mystery. What Mina is interested here is the way women are victimized, how they accept or refuse that role, and how class in particular is at play. The title refers to prostitutes who are murder victims, the police refer to them as "less dead" since they weren't really human to begin with. Our entry point into the world is Margot, a doctor whose life is in transition. Her mother has just died after a long illness and Margot is unable to clear out the house she left behind. She has just left her boyfriend, but hasn't yet told him that she's pregnant. And in the midst of all of this she goes through the adoption agency that placed her in her family to have a meeting with Nikki, her biological aunt. Nikki is not really who Margot expected and she is reeling even more after Nikki tells her that her mother Susan was a prostitute and drug addict, and that not long after Margot's birth, she was murdered, one of a string of murders that weren't solved. Margot is our amateur detective for the book, trying to learn more about Susan's life. Amateur detectives (and real ones, for that matter) in mysteries often try my patience because they are so incredibly dumb all the time. They make terrible decisions, they talk to people they shouldn't talk to, they don't think to protect themselves. And Margot is definitely one of these, but Mina wisely works it in as part of Margot's character. She is firmly middle class and is confused and bewildered by much of what she learns about Susan's life. She has encountered addicts only through her work, and only in the kind of brief encounters that end nearly as quickly as they begin. There is a whole other world that Margot doesn't know but one that is intimately connected with her whole existence. The subplots here work quite well, tying in to Margot's state of inbetweenness. Especially the one of her best friend Lilah, who is escaping an abusive ex but won't really call him that. The contrast between Lilah and Susan is subtle but notable, the ways they won't see themselves as victim, but that similarity leads to drastically different attitudes and possibilities. I would also like to call the attention of basically every thriller writer to how Mina executes the occasional chapter from a definite bad guy. This has become so common in thrillers and yet it almost always makes the book worse instead of better. Sometimes it's clearly The Killer, sometimes it's unclear, but it rarely actually increases the dread of the book and often it reveals things that would have been better held back. Here, Mina executes it perfectly. It takes us into the very thing Margot is trying to understand, so it helps us understand just how in over her head she is. It underlines the central theme of how detested women like Susan are. And it never gives away too much. One time it actually made me gasp aloud, which I don't think has ever happened in that kind of chapter before. The third act here isn't at all standard, but I liked it even more for that refusal to give us the typical pacing and climax. I did get frustrated with Margot the closer we got to the end, and wanted very much for her to just do something reasonable please, but I got why she didn't and even if I wanted to shake her, I never wanted to shake Mina. I hope a lot more readers have found Mina after the big success of CONVICTION. This is a pretty different book, but a worthwhile one for sure.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sid Nuncius

    Denise Mina is a brilliant writer and I have loved much of her work, but I don’t think The Less Dead is one of her best. Margo, a Glasgow GP, was adopted at a few days old and has now arranged to meet the sister of her birth mother in order to find out more about her background. This leads Margo into dark territory among Glasgow’s heroin addicts, sex workers and also sparks some very sinister threats to her personally. Mina, as always, writes very well, but overall I found the book rather unsatisf Denise Mina is a brilliant writer and I have loved much of her work, but I don’t think The Less Dead is one of her best. Margo, a Glasgow GP, was adopted at a few days old and has now arranged to meet the sister of her birth mother in order to find out more about her background. This leads Margo into dark territory among Glasgow’s heroin addicts, sex workers and also sparks some very sinister threats to her personally. Mina, as always, writes very well, but overall I found the book rather unsatisfactory. It opens with a long passage in which Margo, is waiting to meet her birth mother’s siter, who is very late. A lot of pages pass before she finally appears, which rather sets the tone of the book, in which not much happens for pretty long periods. There’s a great deal of atmospheric scene-setting and exploration of Margo’s internal state, which Denise Mina does exceptionally well, of course, and a very good, insightful and compassionate portrait of the life of sex workers and people’s attitudes to them, but it’s all within a structure which didn’t really work for me. It turns out that Margo’s mother was an addict and a sex worker who was murdered. Gradually it emerges that someone is stalking Margo and that they know a great deal about her mother’s killing. This too is quite well done, but there are so many other fragmented plot strands that the whole thing seemed a bit of a mess to me. There’s an unrelated story about a friend in an abusive relationship, which may be intended to illustrate aspects of the main story but to me just seemed to be a major distraction. There are some red herrings which didn’t really convince at all and, frankly, I found it a bit of a mess. I’m sorry to be critical of a very fine writer whose work I usually love, but I can only give this one a very qualified recommendation. (My thanks to Harvill, Secker for an ARC via NetGalley.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alma Katsu

    This is a novel about women. The struggles of the have nots, the women most of us think we know but we're not really familiar with the hard realities of their lives. It's also about the haves, and how each of them has an unexpected story, too. What I like most about Denise Mina's work is that her stories are so well done. The voice is comforting and easy on the ear. Her stories are clever and inventive and original. They're not pandering or formulaic or repetitive. And they always convey the trut This is a novel about women. The struggles of the have nots, the women most of us think we know but we're not really familiar with the hard realities of their lives. It's also about the haves, and how each of them has an unexpected story, too. What I like most about Denise Mina's work is that her stories are so well done. The voice is comforting and easy on the ear. Her stories are clever and inventive and original. They're not pandering or formulaic or repetitive. And they always convey the truth of things, how life really works, even the bits people try to hide. No exception with THE LESS DEAD: it's a good solid read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This is a very clever thriller with its roots in the dark days of Glasgow; especially around drugs and prostitution. It approaches an old serial killer case from a modern day person looking back to understand her birth mother. When her adoptive mother dies Margo comes across her aunt’s letters trying to make contact with her. These letters were hidden and the correspondence is a total surprise. Margo decides to respond, through an adoption agency that supervises reconciliation meetings, to find ou This is a very clever thriller with its roots in the dark days of Glasgow; especially around drugs and prostitution. It approaches an old serial killer case from a modern day person looking back to understand her birth mother. When her adoptive mother dies Margo comes across her aunt’s letters trying to make contact with her. These letters were hidden and the correspondence is a total surprise. Margo decides to respond, through an adoption agency that supervises reconciliation meetings, to find out about her birth mother. This takes her down a path that she could never have imagined. Her mother gave her up because of her life of drug dependency and lifestyle of prostitution. Initially frightened by her new found family she becomes determined to find out about her mother’s life choices and who murdered her. Margo disorientated becomes immersed into a world she is unprepared for; where she struggles to understand why women worked the streets and is horrified to learn how in little regard, lives like here mother’s, were held. Margo feels she can look into matters, ask questions and perhaps find out what happened to her mother and why. Meanwhile, the reader becomes aware that someone is stalking her; threatening her with obscene letters and could pose a series threat to her life. The author has the police remaining impotent still in modern times which is telling as Margo leads the investigation into these old murders, especially her own mother’s case. 8 A true thriller. Well researched piece into street prostitution. Motives, reasons the women continue this life and the men around them. The book is strong on female characters and the bond between the women outlined grows as the novel progresses. Margo is on a steep learning curve and it becomes very personal to her. As readers we are given fleshed out characters and as a result we can better appreciate the subject matter beyond serial killer murders prostitutes as in similar stereotype investigations since Jack the Ripper. The writing is balanced and well paced allowing conflicting thoughts to come and go as understanding forms. The whole story can be unpacked in terms of these distinctive roles of men and women around attitudes to sex, sex work and pornography. But it tells more than just a bleak story of exploitation, control and male violence. It demonstrates women being enabled, supported and taking back control. You fear for Margo as the stalker gets closer to her and you wonder just how it will end. Margo it seems has gained strength through learning about her birth mother but can she avoid her ultimate fate at the hands of the same or some copy-cat murderer. Denise Mina writes gritty crime thrillers without wasting her words. This is a book full of insight and passion. Without judgement on the lives portrayed the storytelling is tense and thrilling, Glasgow is seen to be changing but in this novel we are reminded of how lives were blighted in the past and how some in society were deemed less than human. Problems and uncaring attitudes still impact on the lives of some in society today. Violence of men to women remains as unreported; women left without justice and especially among some disadvantaged groups. In this wonderful novel the spotlight has been shone briefly on such issues but in the art of good storytelling the reader was kept in the dark about who would survive the violence, endure the thrilling moments and reach the end of book. A must read both as a crime thriller and as a social mirror - I like a book that scares me but also makes me think.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alison Hardtmann

    Margot's mother has died and she's left her partner because, having become pregnant, she's not sure he's someone to raise a child with. In the middle of that upheaval, she meets her birth mother's sister. Her birth family is very different from Margot. She's a GP with a quiet middle-class life and her aunt and mother were both drug-addicted prostitutes with unstable childhoods and while her aunt is now clean, she's still part of Glasgow's underclass. Margot wanted to find out about her mother's Margot's mother has died and she's left her partner because, having become pregnant, she's not sure he's someone to raise a child with. In the middle of that upheaval, she meets her birth mother's sister. Her birth family is very different from Margot. She's a GP with a quiet middle-class life and her aunt and mother were both drug-addicted prostitutes with unstable childhoods and while her aunt is now clean, she's still part of Glasgow's underclass. Margot wanted to find out about her mother's health history but what she gets instead is a plea to help bring her mother's murderer to justice. Margot is torn between a fascination with her mother's life and murder and a wariness about her rediscovered family. And her best friend is having trouble leaving her abusive husband, she's getting threatening letters slipped under her door and someone may be following her. Denise Mina writes with heart and compassion about Glasgow's underclass, and in this novel that skill is well-deployed. Here, the bad guys are both very bad and very human, the protagonist is flawed, yet brave and the many characters, from Margot herself to those we encounter for only a sentence or two are complex and real. There's a terrifying scene with a drunk mugger in which the mugger is both menacing and pitiful. This is Mina at her best, a well-plotted noir set in the back streets and hidden closes of Glasgow.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    I loved Conviction so I was eager for the opportunity to read Denise Mina’s newest release, The Less Dead. In the wake of her adoptive mother’s death, newly separated and pregnant. Glasgow GP Margo Dunlop, decides she wants to meet her biological family. She learns that her biological mother is long dead, but her Aunt Nikki, her mother’s older sister, is eager to connect with her. Their first meeting, in a small room at the reconciliation center, leaves Margo reeling when she is told that her mot I loved Conviction so I was eager for the opportunity to read Denise Mina’s newest release, The Less Dead. In the wake of her adoptive mother’s death, newly separated and pregnant. Glasgow GP Margo Dunlop, decides she wants to meet her biological family. She learns that her biological mother is long dead, but her Aunt Nikki, her mother’s older sister, is eager to connect with her. Their first meeting, in a small room at the reconciliation center, leaves Margo reeling when she is told that her mother, Susan, was a drug addicted prostitute who was brutally stabbed to death just months after Margo’s birth, and Nikki wants Margo’s help to solve her murder. “It’s a cruel story to tell a stranger. Asking for things. Demanding things. It’s not her problem, all these long-ago things. She’s got enough going on.” A compelling novel with a noir sensibility, The Less Dead sees Margo reluctantly drawn into her Aunt’s quest to hold someone responsible for Susan’s murder. Uncomfortable with Nikki’s intensity and her biological family’s unsavoury past, Margo’s commitment is half-hearted until she too becomes a target of vile, anonymous letters that appear to be from the killer. “'When we get killed they call us the 'less dead', like we were never really alive to begin with.” ‘We’ refers to sex workers, drug addicts, migrants and the poor, women like Susan and Nikki, and ‘they’ the Glasgow police who routinely turned a blind eye when it came to crimes against women on the street. Susan was one of nine sex workers from the same small area murdered in the eighties. The women themselves feared a serial killer, the police were uninterested, Nikki later became convinced the murderer was a cop. Whomever it is, he has continued to taunt Nikki over the last thirty plus years, and now Margo has his attention and the tension rises as the killer grows increasingly obsessed. “It doesn’t feel as if she’s looking at someone else at all but a younger self, a splinter Margo.” Honestly I found Margo to be a frustrating character who, even with the recognition she was under an enormous amount of stress, often made inexplicable decisions. However, I was impressed with the way the author explored the contrast between Margo’s adopted middle class life, and that of her struggling biological family through her. Margo may look almost exactly like her late mother but she had no understanding of life she lead, or the environment she grew up in, and the way in which she is forced to confront her own prejudice, assumptions and authority is intelligent and thought-provoking. “... we made being outsiders the thing we were. They couldn’t break us or make us lie. We knew who we were.” It was Nikki who I found the most interesting and authentically portrayed, along with Lizzy and Susan (even though she is not actually present). I felt sorry about the hardships the women experienced, but never found them pitiable, in fact I admired them. Though not a fast-paced book, The Less Dead is thrilling, with a pervasive sense of unease and a steady increase in tension. Gritty, insightful and absorbing, it’s only the character of Margo that unfortunately let it down for me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    Janette, Margo Dunlop's adoptive mother has recently died and Margo and her long-term, cheating partner, Joe, have also parted ways. Struggling with her work as a doctor in a public health practice, and pregnant to boot, she decides its time to search for her birth mother, Susan Brodie, only to discover that she is dead, too. Margo arranges to meet Nikki, Susan's older sister, who relays the circumstances of her nineteen-year-old mother's death, which happened not long after Margo was born. Susa Janette, Margo Dunlop's adoptive mother has recently died and Margo and her long-term, cheating partner, Joe, have also parted ways. Struggling with her work as a doctor in a public health practice, and pregnant to boot, she decides its time to search for her birth mother, Susan Brodie, only to discover that she is dead, too. Margo arranges to meet Nikki, Susan's older sister, who relays the circumstances of her nineteen-year-old mother's death, which happened not long after Margo was born. Susan was one of nine women murdered on the streets of Glasgow by a serial killer in 1989. Throughout the years, Nikki has been receiving letters from the killer(s), glorifying the crimes and describing them in graphic detail. Yearning for a sense of identity, Margo embarks on a dangerous journey to discover more about Susan. I thoroughly enjoyed this dark novel set in bygone Glasgow's seedy underworld. Denise Mina presented the opposing worlds of Margo and Nikki very cleverly and comprehensively, contrasting Margo's life of a good education, excellent career choices and high expectations with Susan and Nikki, growing up in care, and then facing a life on the streets. The author's characterisation was superb, especially of Nikki who was brave and determined, and Margo herself became bolder as the story progressed. With a smooth pace there was always plenty going on, with certainly no room for tedium or boredom. The plot itself was fascinating and I revelled in the complexity of the characters, their traits and relationships to one another. As some rather creepy and threatening events occurred the tension and suspense escalated, and I liked the way I was kept waiting for the final outcome. I'm immensely keen to see what the talented Denise Mina writes next and I will, of course, have read Conviction by then. Taut, hard-hitting and sharp, I recommend The Less Dead without any hesitation. I received a complimentary copy of this novel at my request from Random House Vintage/ Harvill Secker via NetGalley. This review is my own unbiased opinion.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jen Ryland

    I loved the book's premise: Margo, whose adoptive mother has just died, meets her biological aunt, who tells her that her bio mom was murdered. The aunt is a little nutty and confides that she and Margo's mom were heroin-addicted sex workers back in the day. She also says that psychic powers run in the family, while Margo fears this is just mental illness or damage from the drugs. So Margo is skeptical. But then she starts looking into the case and ... maybe her aunt is right. Like Conviction, th I loved the book's premise: Margo, whose adoptive mother has just died, meets her biological aunt, who tells her that her bio mom was murdered. The aunt is a little nutty and confides that she and Margo's mom were heroin-addicted sex workers back in the day. She also says that psychic powers run in the family, while Margo fears this is just mental illness or damage from the drugs. So Margo is skeptical. But then she starts looking into the case and ... maybe her aunt is right. Like Conviction, this has a darkly comic vibe that may not work for every reader (and at times felt a little odd to me). The book deals with tough topics, from heroin addiction to mental illness to serial murder and stalking to sex work. It also definitely has a tone that I'd call ... wacky? The plot also has a lot going on, from the fact that Margo is newly pregnant and hiding that from Joe, the baby's father, and that her best friend is being stalked by a dangerously crazy ex-boyfriend, who is also the uncle-to-be of Margo's unborn child (he and Joe are brothers.) I loved the opening chapters. Then my interest lagged a bit in the middle when I wondered if the plot was just too convoluted for me and the tone just a little too weird. But I stuck it out to the end, and I did like the ending. This isn't my favorite book by Denise Mina, but I remain a fan! Read more of my reviews on JenRyland.com! Let's be friends on Bookstagram! Thanks to the publisher for providing an advance copy for review!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Tomasso

    I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House UK, Vintage for an advance copy of The Less Dead, a stand-alone set in Glasgow. Dr Margo Dunlop is reeling from the death of her adoptive mother, Janette, and sets out to find her birth mother. She is out of luck as her birth mother, sex worker Susan Brodie, was murdered shortly after Margo was born. Instead she meets her aunt Nikki who draws her in to her pain, she has been receiving letters from the killer for years. I enjoyed The Less Dead, which I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House UK, Vintage for an advance copy of The Less Dead, a stand-alone set in Glasgow. Dr Margo Dunlop is reeling from the death of her adoptive mother, Janette, and sets out to find her birth mother. She is out of luck as her birth mother, sex worker Susan Brodie, was murdered shortly after Margo was born. Instead she meets her aunt Nikki who draws her in to her pain, she has been receiving letters from the killer for years. I enjoyed The Less Dead, which, while not being a long novel, has so much to unpick. First I should say that it has a compelling plot with never a dull moment and some genuine creepiness. It’s not just the hunt for the killer as there are all sorts of complications in Margo’s life, notably her friend Leila’s dysfunctional love life and odd approach to life. There is a good twist in that. The third person narrative is initially very intimate with the narrator inserting their observations but that peters out into the more straightforward. I found the initial intimacy a good way of getting close to the characters immediately. The problem with this is Margo. She’s not unreliable, more unstable in the way that it is hard to second guess her as she’s unpredictable and not always logical. I think it’s a good depiction of a woman under a considerable amount of stress but it doesn’t make her very likeable. Margo’s female birth relatives have all been in the sex trade and she’s a doctor by dint of being adopted into a middle class family. This is a classic compare and contrast/what if scenario. Ms Mina spends a fair amount of time trying to explain the life of a prostitute and the reasons for it but I think it is spoiled by the bad girl turned good story of Nikki, who comes across as much more likeable than Margo. There’s something missing from it and I’m not quite sure what. The Less Dead is a good read with plenty to interest the reader so I have no hesitation in recommending it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    *3.75 stars. "Maybe it's Tracy's belligerent walk. She sways her shoulders and enters the room belly first as if she's pregnant and wants to talk about it, or is fat and doesn't" (4). "'No worries,' she says, though she is nothing but a big bag of worries" (41). "Who hasn't got stuff? Dead people and dogs'" (76). "Glasgow's High Court is shoved over to the edge of the river, facing away from the city like a naughty child sent to a corner to have a think about its behaviour" (77). "The Saltmarket is *3.75 stars. "Maybe it's Tracy's belligerent walk. She sways her shoulders and enters the room belly first as if she's pregnant and wants to talk about it, or is fat and doesn't" (4). "'No worries,' she says, though she is nothing but a big bag of worries" (41). "Who hasn't got stuff? Dead people and dogs'" (76). "Glasgow's High Court is shoved over to the edge of the river, facing away from the city like a naughty child sent to a corner to have a think about its behaviour" (77). "The Saltmarket is a mixed area, up and coming but still with pockets of rough-as-fuck" (77). “Robertson can't possibly know these things, he's describing someone else's life in a subjective narrative. Margot doesn't know if it's all right to do that. It feels wrong and unkind and presumptuous” (122). “A brown spider plant droops from the macramé hanger, all its tiny babies brown and wilted, like a sad memory of fireworks” (132). "'Read the fucking signs. I'm not watching you jump from one burning bucket of shit straight into another'" (229). *True friend advice. "The houses are small and pretty, all designed with minor differences from their neighbors to mimic the organic development of a proper village but the fiction doesn't take: they're all built of the same materials and have the same windows and doors" (239). "Betty looks uncomfortable. 'What do men do in Amsterdam? He wasn't trying on clogs, was he?'" (316).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    This is a great mystery told quickly and concisely, but I still have a feel for all the characters. GOod plot, and not the ending I expected ;)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Well ... I guess the moral of this story is be careful what you wish for. I'm pretty sure (in fact as I have read the book, I know) that when Margo decided to try and track down her birth mother she hadn't been expecting to find anything quite as dark and deadly as this twisted tale. Sex worker and recovering addict, Susan had sacrificed a lot and worked really hard to give Margo a better start, only to have it all taken when she is brutally murdered as many other women had been before her. Meet Well ... I guess the moral of this story is be careful what you wish for. I'm pretty sure (in fact as I have read the book, I know) that when Margo decided to try and track down her birth mother she hadn't been expecting to find anything quite as dark and deadly as this twisted tale. Sex worker and recovering addict, Susan had sacrificed a lot and worked really hard to give Margo a better start, only to have it all taken when she is brutally murdered as many other women had been before her. Meeting her maternal Aunt, Nikki, is only the start of Margo's troubles and learning who she is and where she really comes from soon put her life at risk. Now this may be the first Denise Mina book I have read but I can instantly see the attraction. This book goes beyond your usual murder mystery, psychological thriller style far, challenging readers in a much more measured and cerebral way, and yet wrapping it up in a story which completely draws you in and keep you hooked. From the very start I got the impression of Margo as someone is is very controlled, very measured, and so the chaotic whirlwind that is her Aunt Nikki is provides a stark contrast from the moment they meet. It is not simply because Margo is a Doctor and Nikki a former sex worker, although that clearly plays a very large part in the complete dichotomy of their personalities. Other than a passing resemblance there is nothing that that have in common beyond DNA and yet neither can predict how that will soon change. There is a great sense of threat that feeds throughout the novel. Partly this is driven by the fact that Susan's killer has never been caught and brought to justice. There are conspiracy theories abound about who was really guilty, one of which leads to a significant sub story within the book, but this whole idea of Susan as being somehow disposable is really where we find the moral core of the whole story. From a police perspective, Susan was just one of many sex workers murdered, another faceless, unimportant nobody whose death was not worth investigating, a sense which still prevails amongst many to this day. That somehow if you are not the picture perfect wife, sister or mother, then your life isn;t glamourous of sexy enough to be more than a minor detail on a new bulletin or in the corner of a newspaper. That your life is reduce to half a dozen lines of text and nothing more. You are the eponymous 'Less Dead' of the books title. This book challenges those perceptions - proves that Susan did matter to those who loved her, those who would still given anything to find her killer. The police are not completely written off, there is one sympathetic character in former DCI Diane Gallagher, but she is somewhat of an anomaly in a sea of institutional prejudice. As the murder took place in the eighties, the whole idea of this level of bigotry and prejudice rings true and is captured perfectly on the page. Even Margo's own reactions to her new found family speak volumes about that judgment of those who have everything when faced with those who don't. The contrast between their live, their upbringing, even the way in which they speak and act, is marked and acutely observed, although it is often Nikki who comes across in the most sympathetic and likable way in spite of this being Margo's story. Denise Mina goes to great lengths to show that Nikki is more than her former career, her loyalty and bravado beautiful to read. The atmosphere and tension that flows through the book is pitch perfect and the language evocative. The author really captures that sense of loss that margo feels having recently lost her adoptive mother, that uncertainty of change which is being heightened by all of her discoveries about her biological family. This is not a fast paced book, although it is awash with that sense of threat, and there are moments in which I found my pulse picking up and my nerves jangling ,and when you read the book you will understand why. Although, at times, I found myself despairing at Margo's actions, I also understood why she reacted as she did, and I never once wanted to walk away. But then the closing chapters of the book, where the truth of what has gone before becomes abundantly clear, is absolutely perfect. Surprising, maybe even a little shocking. Compared to some of the volatility that comes before it, the book ends in a somewhat sedate way and yet it is just ... right. Definitely a book that makes me want to read more of the author's work, and one I would recommend.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tonya

    The Less Dead is my first Denise Mina book. I've heard wonderful things about her previous book, Conviction, and I may still make time to read it, although I didn't really enjoy this one. It's certainly an interesting premise, and there was just enough uncertainty to keep me reading. In between the compelling events, the rest is just dry. Descriptions of neighborhoods, clothes, houses, pubs, any mundane thing... I've never been to Scotland, but I certainly feel I know this area well. And maybe m The Less Dead is my first Denise Mina book. I've heard wonderful things about her previous book, Conviction, and I may still make time to read it, although I didn't really enjoy this one. It's certainly an interesting premise, and there was just enough uncertainty to keep me reading. In between the compelling events, the rest is just dry. Descriptions of neighborhoods, clothes, houses, pubs, any mundane thing... I've never been to Scotland, but I certainly feel I know this area well. And maybe my real issue with the book is the unsympathetic character of Margo. She's a doctor, therefore she believes herself superior to almost everyone she encounters in the book, but then she turns around and does the most reckless and ignorant things possible! My feelings about The Less Dead are complicated. I loved the insight into the underworld of sex work, the tough women who survived drug addiction, and the central mystery. I just didn't care for the MC and the incessant filler of details. Maybe I'm just not cerebral enough to understand what the author was trying to convey. I know that others will enjoy it, but The Less Dead was just okay for me. 3 stars I was provided a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you to Mulholland Books and Netgalley.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Keenan Powell

    Dr. Margo Dunlop does not know who she is, where she belongs, or what she should be doing. She's newly pregnant. She left her boyfriend. She's on leave from her job. Her adoptive mother died recently leaving Margo to clear out the family home. In that process, she ran across letters from her biological aunt trying to reconnect that her mother had hidden. Margo meets the aunt and learns about her mother's short life and murder. Aunt Nikki tries to enlist Margo into finding the killer. At first, M Dr. Margo Dunlop does not know who she is, where she belongs, or what she should be doing. She's newly pregnant. She left her boyfriend. She's on leave from her job. Her adoptive mother died recently leaving Margo to clear out the family home. In that process, she ran across letters from her biological aunt trying to reconnect that her mother had hidden. Margo meets the aunt and learns about her mother's short life and murder. Aunt Nikki tries to enlist Margo into finding the killer. At first, Margo resists. But in short order, she is harassed and stalked by a strange man who may, or may not, be the one. This is a gritty book. Its early passages resonate at a primal level. Like bringing forth life, there is blood and carnality, yet the story spirals upwards to a satisfying ending. One of the best narrations I've ever heard. I especially enjoyed the Scottish woman with an affected Valley girl accent.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition

    Full of undesirable characters, but very interesting and well written. Denise Mina has made what could have been a tawdry "who dunnit" into a realistic and compelling story about the plight of sex workers. A horrific and degrading murder goes unsolved and nobody cares, because the victim was a prostitute. Margo, Susan's grown daughter, was adopted as an infant, but comes back to the place she was born, to find out about her birth mother, hoping to meet other family members, after her beloved ado Full of undesirable characters, but very interesting and well written. Denise Mina has made what could have been a tawdry "who dunnit" into a realistic and compelling story about the plight of sex workers. A horrific and degrading murder goes unsolved and nobody cares, because the victim was a prostitute. Margo, Susan's grown daughter, was adopted as an infant, but comes back to the place she was born, to find out about her birth mother, hoping to meet other family members, after her beloved adoptive mother died. She meets Susan's sister, her aunt, who has never stopped looking for Susan's killer. Margo continues to make a case to arrest the man whom she thinks killed her mother with some realistic twists at the end. The only thing I didn't buy was how Margo, who is a doctor, managed not to work for the entire book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey (Kelseylovesbooks)

    The Less Dead was a split for me between very entertaining and captivating mystery storylines, and random storylines that never really seemed to go anywhere. On the one hand, I was definitely interested in finding out who murdered Margo's mom and found the central characters to be well-developed. However, I was also expecting more to come of other storylines that in the end I think were just placed there for distraction. This is a quick mystery read, perfect to finish over a weekend. I received The Less Dead was a split for me between very entertaining and captivating mystery storylines, and random storylines that never really seemed to go anywhere. On the one hand, I was definitely interested in finding out who murdered Margo's mom and found the central characters to be well-developed. However, I was also expecting more to come of other storylines that in the end I think were just placed there for distraction. This is a quick mystery read, perfect to finish over a weekend. I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    I love Denise Mina. She writes thrillers that also expose social issues that I rarely think about. In Conviction, it was male anorexia. Here, it is prostitution. Are prostitutes less dead, or less human? The answer should be no. I am glad I took this deep-dive into Glasgow with Denise.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This one had me guessing right up to the end. Mina is the queen of Tartan Noir!

  23. 5 out of 5

    EG

    Gritty, realistic look at sex work in Glasgow and the impact of the class divide on upbringing, policing and self-concept.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I haven’t read her previous novel Conviction which I heard is pretty good. I didn’t find this book to be good. It was an ok story but I didn’t feel like it was all that thrilling. I was bored by the story.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mary McDonough

    Denise Mina delivers again with a novel that plays with the crime fiction genre. The Less Dead invites us into lives rarely valued in society, and almost never in crime fiction. It’s a relatable world of people trying their best amidst systemic and interpersonal violence.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine Douglas

    When Margo, a doctor from Glasgow, arranges to meet her birth family for the first time via an adoption charity, the meeting is attended by Nikki, Margo’s birth aunt. Nikki, who has been trying unsuccessfully to make contact with Margo for a while, explains that Susan, Margo’s mother, was murdered years ago while working as a prostitute. No-one has ever been convicted of the murder, and Nikki believes that Susan and other women were victims of a serial killer. The novel’s title, The Less Dead, r When Margo, a doctor from Glasgow, arranges to meet her birth family for the first time via an adoption charity, the meeting is attended by Nikki, Margo’s birth aunt. Nikki, who has been trying unsuccessfully to make contact with Margo for a while, explains that Susan, Margo’s mother, was murdered years ago while working as a prostitute. No-one has ever been convicted of the murder, and Nikki believes that Susan and other women were victims of a serial killer. The novel’s title, The Less Dead, refers to the policing attitude of the time, namely that the deaths of street-working women were somehow less notable than other deaths. I worked for many years with women in Glasgow who had similar lives to those depicted in The Less Dead, so many of the references in the novel were instantly familiar – the drug use, the violence, the locations, the dependent and sometimes abusive partners, and the generations of deprivation within families. Margo’s first meeting with Nikki felt authentic, with Margo being completely out of her depth and mistrusting Nikki’s motives. Similarly, Tracey, the charity worker with the poor boundaries between her personal and professional lives, felt realistic, over-involving herself in a way that quickly started to feel counter-productive. As the novel progressed, with Margo beginning to delve further into Susan’s life and character, exploring the serial killer theory while keeping Nikki instinctively at bay, I found it hard at times to empathise with Margo. Her career as a doctor felt a bit like a device, there to cement her status as a confident, middle-class woman and to give her specific bits of medical knowledge, but there was otherwise no hint of any contact with her workplace, colleagues or anything to do with her actual job. She made some very undoctorly decisions regarding things like not notifying the police when her safety was in jeopardy. Her relationship with her ex-partner Joe, who was unaware that Margo was pregnant, seemed to consist of endless conversations about Margo’s friend Lilah, herself clearly in a worrying situation. Ironically, given Margo’s feelings towards Nikki, her character seemed to make most sense in the scenes featuring her birth family, especially the one in which she met an older family member. On the whole, The Less Dead was at its best when the focus was on Nikki, Susan and the other women they’d known. There was an obvious compassion and dedication to bringing to life the stories of these women, and Denise Mina’s writing highlighted the individual stories and situations that can become obscured when we start to talk about disadvantaged people as a group. The ending of the story, when it came, felt sudden, and I would have liked one more chapter to answer some of the questions I still had. Without giving too much away, there were a few incidents towards the end of the novel that would indicate further drama to come; in particular, a highly traceable phone call. I know those little ‘six months later…’ chapters can feel a bit cheesy, but I think a further bit of resolution would have been forgivable here.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Craig Sisterson

    After firmly establishing herself as a Crown Princess of Tartan Noir thanks to three outstanding series (Garnethill, Paddy Meehan, Alex Morrow), Glasgow scribe Denise Mina has poured her immense storytelling talents into unique standalones in recent years. Her latest tale, The Less Dead, is another brilliant novel that takes readers into some uncharted waters. A fascinating read, it's quite bleak and grim in its content, yet compelling and heartfelt too. Set in Glasgow but exploring issues that After firmly establishing herself as a Crown Princess of Tartan Noir thanks to three outstanding series (Garnethill, Paddy Meehan, Alex Morrow), Glasgow scribe Denise Mina has poured her immense storytelling talents into unique standalones in recent years. Her latest tale, The Less Dead, is another brilliant novel that takes readers into some uncharted waters. A fascinating read, it's quite bleak and grim in its content, yet compelling and heartfelt too. Set in Glasgow but exploring issues that resonate globally. It takes readers into the lives of those who struggle on the margins, who work or live on the streets, the type of people whose deaths have been marked ‘No Humans Involved’ on NYPD case files. Or the ‘less dead’, as Nikki shares with Margo. While there’s a whodunnit aspect to Mina’s latest, it shines brightest in how it takes us into others’ lives. A fine novel, more focused on characters (and society) than the solving of a crime.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Kerdouci

    The Less Dead opens with our protagonist Margo , a doctor, nervously waiting to meet her aunt Nikki for the first time, keen to discover more about her birth mother Susan who was murdered at the tender age of nineteen. Nikki almost misses her appointment with Margo, thanks to the current trial at the High Court where a man stands accused of Susan’s murder. This initial encounter is fraught with tension and disbelief, with Margo unsure whether Nikki’s tales are of a fantastical nature or actually The Less Dead opens with our protagonist Margo , a doctor, nervously waiting to meet her aunt Nikki for the first time, keen to discover more about her birth mother Susan who was murdered at the tender age of nineteen. Nikki almost misses her appointment with Margo, thanks to the current trial at the High Court where a man stands accused of Susan’s murder. This initial encounter is fraught with tension and disbelief, with Margo unsure whether Nikki’s tales are of a fantastical nature or actually grounded in truth. Deciding to carry out some investigations of her own, Margot quickly realises the truth surrounding her birth mother and together with a most venomous, threatening letter posted through her letterbox, this thriller starts off at a cracking pace. This is a gritty, hard hitting read tackling such serious topics of abuse and addiction, prostitution and murder but never written in a way to shock. The author has chosen to relate this seedy,dangerous side of life with a combination of compassion, plenty of dark humour and a sense of mystery. The descriptions of street life on the Drag are vivid, there’s no hiding from the stark reality for these women and with heroin flooding the Glaswegian streets from the 1980’s it’s obvious that the loss of community that kept these women relatively ‘safe’ has maybe lead to multiple murders, including Susan’s but are they the work of a serial killer?? The most likely suspect is ex cop Martin McPhail but is this just salacious gossip ? What I loved most about The Less Dead is the author’s brilliant characterisation, in particular that of the Brodie women. She discusses their lives as prostitutes with such compassion, looking beyond their ‘profession’ and portraying them as worthy human beings, strong, tough, resilient but ultimately poor. You wouldn’t want to mess with the Whiteinch Brodies and despite their humble, awful lives, trapped by addiction and violence and abuse I think in their own way they had the determination and power to alter the future. These women,including Susan, are not simply ‘street furniture’ or ‘the less dead’ as police and society term them, but individuals struggling to survive in whatever way they can. Susan, by giving baby Margo up for adoption was giving her the greatest gift of all, sacrificing her love for her daughter so that she could have a better life and break free from the cycle that has trapped the likes of Patsy, Betty, Nikki and Susan and Lizzie. I loved the dark humour that is present in the writing throughout, depicting these women as larger than life, mentally unstable characters you can’t help but develop a soft spot for. My favourite without a doubt being Nikki. As you will discover, this character is far from one dimensional with the author depicting a softer side that lies beneath a tough outward exterior. Betty’s years as a stage psychic are funny and the inclusion of Tracey, the volunteer at the adoption agency provides yet more light relief. Although Lizzie and Nikki are shown to offer protection to Margo in ways that are incredibly violent I did find these scenes laced with black humour, diffusing any shock value. Lilah, Margo’s best friend is yet another character penned as slightly crazy with a tendency to be attracted to the nutters of this world which isn’t actually funny when you realise her circumstances but her dialogue with Margo is often suffused with dark humour also. I could understand Margo’s need to connect with her birth family following the death of her adoptive mum Janette but felt immense sympathy for the way in which she ends up with way more than she bargains for. Despite her very different upbringing Margo seems to grow in strength as the storyline progresses so that I couldn’t help but wonder if she’s inherited some of the resilience so prevalent in the Brodie women. I think the actual plot line of Margo discovering her blood relations and then becoming immersed in the search for Susan’s killer had promise but wasn’t in my eyes as thrilling as I expected. Despite this, I still found the narrative made compelling reading as I literally couldn’t put the book down. Margo becoming the recipient of anonymous poison pen letters which are crude and vile in the extreme carries a certain amount of menace, further enhanced by the letter writer’s infrequent voice that punctuates the storyline and whom may also be a stalker to boot. For some unknown reason I didn’t feel this mystery individual posed any real substantial threat but that’s just my interpretation. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the letter writer is also Susan’s killer and whether Margo is in any real danger. There are plenty of red herrings in the storyline but whether you find them credible is a matter of opinion. Take your pick from McPail the ex cop, Jack Robertson, author of a book investigating the killings, Margo’s unknown father or maybe none of them. There are some unexpected twists to accompany the efforts at misdirection which do add an element of intrigue. I don’t know why but I found the ending an anticlimax and this is one of the reasons I have downgraded my original thoughts of a 5 star review to 4.5. Additionally I wouldn’t class this book as your usual thriller since for me it lacked the right amount of tension and menacing undertones. I just felt the strength of this book lay in the characterisation rather than the plot. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the writing style and lapped up every word so I highly recommend and whilst this is only my second Denise Mina book I’ve read I’m keen to discover all her back catalogue! My thanks as always to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary Picken

    Goodness me, gentle reader, but this book is a cracker! Want to know how good it is? Though it is very different, it reminds me in many ways of The Long Drop and that was OUTSTANDING! I read it from cover to cover in one day. I was so engrossed in the story and everything Mina was telling me that I did not want to stop – and believe me, that’s been a rare experience in this lockdown. Margo Dunlop is mourning the death of her adoptive mother and is vulnerable with many changes in her life right no Goodness me, gentle reader, but this book is a cracker! Want to know how good it is? Though it is very different, it reminds me in many ways of The Long Drop and that was OUTSTANDING! I read it from cover to cover in one day. I was so engrossed in the story and everything Mina was telling me that I did not want to stop – and believe me, that’s been a rare experience in this lockdown. Margo Dunlop is mourning the death of her adoptive mother and is vulnerable with many changes in her life right now. Margot is a doctor, pregnant and on bereavement leave and has just split from her partner, Joe. As we meet her, she is in the offices of an adoption agency waiting to meet her aunt, having discovered that her mother, Susan Brodie, died not long after giving birth to Margo. Nikki is Susan’s sister and she is very late to the meeting; held up as a result of a trial she is involved with. (Mina fans will enjoy the wee Easter egg she throws in for us at the courthouse). When Nikki finally appears, just as Margo is about to leave, she is taken aback by how much Margo looks like her birth mother. Nikki tells Margo that Susan was a prostitute and an addict and that she was murdered at the age of 19, by a serial killer who murdered 9 women but was never caught. Nikki was also an addict, also working the streets – and part of the richness of this book is embodied in the way in which Mina explores middle class attitudes to sex, drugs and violence and the delicacy with which Margo tries to engage with Nikki, all the time just a wee bit at sea as to how to relate to her. Indeed, after their first meeting she gives her false contact details, so unsure is she as to whether she wants Nikki anywhere near her life. Nikki shows her threatening letters she’s received over the years which she believes come from the killer, containing scraps of evidence that come from the site where Susan’s body was found, a bus stop in Easterhouse. Mina conveys so well the Glasgow of the 80’s, a time when heroin was really the drug of ‘choice’ on the streets of the city and more women entered the world of selling sex than ever before, to be able to get their fix. Nikki believes she knows who was responsible for the deaths of Susan and the other women and when Margo finds that a similar letter is waiting for her, she is driven to find out what’s going on. What makes this book work so incredibly well is the fragile relationship between these women and the way that they dance around each other, not quite knowing how to relate, despite the fact that they are blood relatives. But who hasn’t been there, right? The notion of family and what it is, how it works is explored through the relationships of all the women in this book, as is the unremitting question of male violence and how that so easily transcends any notion of class distinction. Margo has difficulty in dealing with the sex worker side of Nikki’s life, her past drug addiction and the violence that is a part and parcel of the life of a sex worker but at the same time she is appalled by the casual and brutal attitude of the Police to these women’s deaths. Because they were sex workers, their deaths were treated as some kind of work related accident; they were disposable – or in the title of the book, the ‘less dead’, women whose deaths were less significant because they were not part of polite society. And because they were in the main, poor and working class, they was no moral outrage; they had no-one who would speak up for them and demand justice. They were disposable in a world where you can always get another one where that one came from. It is only Diane Gallagher, a woman cop in a sea of men who is prepared to be more human and even she is holding back. There is a strong and menacing plot running through this book, as Margo is threatened by our unseen killer, the tension rising as she tries to find the killer, her suspicion falling on more than one many man she encounters with a propensity to use his fists. Margo may think she’s getting to the truth, but the killer is always one step ahead and she’s really not seeing the wood from the trees. Mina’s love of true crime comes through in the form of Jack Robertson, a rather sleazy author who has written about Susan’s and the other women’s deaths and is now being sued for pointing the finger. He is obviously is keen to have his theories validated. The core of the story, though, is the relationships between all the women in the book, from Margo’s friend Lilah to the women who stand up in solidarity for each other in court. Glasgow takes centre stage as a character, of course, and is richly and graphically depicted from the wonderful Mitchell Library to the two sides of the Saltmarket; one striving to get to Bohemia but not quite making it; the other populated by men tumbling out of pubs looking for a fight and not caring where they get it. Verdict: The Less Dead on one level is a suspenseful, menacing thriller and pitch perfect at that. But it is also about the bond between women; about friendship; about how you choose which family you want to belong to and the power dynamics that play out in all families. The writing is fabulous. This is prose you can happily drown in, like a warm bath reaching for you and drawing you in.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David Harris

    'When we get killed they call us the "less dead"...' I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of The Less Dead via NetGalley. After the globetrotting of Conviction, Mina returns to home ground for this Glasgow-set mystery which links the very different cities of the 2020s (maybe I should now just say "20s" but that sounds like flappers and jazz) and the 1980s, digging up unfinished business and crashing all kinds of different worlds together - the comfortable professionals and the strug 'When we get killed they call us the "less dead"...' I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of The Less Dead via NetGalley. After the globetrotting of Conviction, Mina returns to home ground for this Glasgow-set mystery which links the very different cities of the 2020s (maybe I should now just say "20s" but that sounds like flappers and jazz) and the 1980s, digging up unfinished business and crashing all kinds of different worlds together - the comfortable professionals and the struggling poor, the settled families and those with chaotic lives. It's a book I really found hard to leave alone, gobbling chapter after chapter and neglecting my family and dogs. "Unputdownable" is an overused cliché, but this book is the real thing. The junction between all of the different worlds is Margo Dunlop, a middle-aged Glaswegian GP who - following the death of adoptive mother Janette - is searching for information about her her birth mother, Susan. We first see her waiting nervously in the offices of an adoption charity, not helped by well-meaning but charmless social worker Tracey. When Susan's sister Nikki breezes in late, we see the first of those collisions. Margo's educated, professional. Nikki's... not. Laced through this book are Margo's (rather) dismal attempts to "accept" Nikki, to not be a snob, and the tendrils of guilt that grow from her failure to do this. The joke on Margo is that Nikki doesn't need to be "accepted", she has her own life which may seem a strange life to Margo but Nikki's OK with it. It soon becomes clear that Margo herself has hit something of a crisis in her life and isn't as "settled" as she thinks. She's hard up, on long term sick leave, failing to to cope with her loss of Janette or her relationship with her ex, Joe (who seems a charming man, if you want someone to turn up at 2AM with a bike slung over his shoulder). She finds it hard dealing with Nikki ('She feels as if Nikki has stolen the day from her'). It's all symbolised by Margo's intermittent attempts to clear out Janette's old, rambling house - another collision of worlds, set in an area that's gentrifying very fast. This is the background. We also soon meet Margo's oldest, best friend, Lilah, who's in a deeply unhealthy situation with her own stalkery ex, 'that wanker Richard', a situation that's spilling out into her group of friends ('It's messy and they've all been sucked into the collapsing start of Richard's and Lilah's relationship') and we hear of Margo's brother, Thomas, also adopted. Mina brings them to vivid life - Lilah's increasingly scary encounters with Richard, often staged in front of her girlfriends, Joe's baffled incomprehension that he's not with Margo any more, and especially, Margo's more and more frenzied displacement activity as she tries not to confront many and varied facets of her life. A diversion is just what's needed! And here we are! Margo discovers that Susan was murdered and the crime has never been solved. There are whispers of a police cover-up, that Susan was one of a string of murdered Glasgow sex workers. Here is a cause she can adopt, a problem she can solve, a way she can come into Nikki's life with some control. Margo begins an investigation - partly into the crime, partly into Susan herself and her origins and background, partly into the Glasgow that killed here: that dark, 80s Glasgow of which traces still linger and which you can step into if you're lucky... or perhaps, if you're very unlucky. Nikki's something of a guide - she's an amazing character, a force of life, a survivor. But if you patronise her, look down on her, ignore her, you do it at your peril. And Margo will visit strange places even in familiar parts of the city ('She'd swear on her life that she has never, ever seen that pub before'). Other perils also walk these pages. Mina does something awkward, jarring, very creepy, but totally brilliant with the text. Alongside the Margo-narrator, there's another voice here, mostly staying in the shadows but sometimes stepping out to grab the story, steer it down dank paths strewn with a really unsettling vein of misogyny and hate. It'll happen in the middle of a sentence. For a few words you're not sure what's going on - then you know, yes, he's back. Those words correlate with a rather sinister game that increasingly draws Margo deep into that other Glasgow, the one that's supposed to be dead. I found it very very creepy and while - as I said above - you have to keep turning those pages, at times I also didn't want to, for fear of what I might read next. Denise Mina takes the gloves off in her depiction of male hatred for women: it's not only that other voice, we also see Richard become scarier and scarier (well, we hear about it - it's mostly reported second and third and hand, which somehow makes it even worse, like a news ticker scrolling with reports of chaos and violence). The writing in The Less Dead is glorious - always on the nose, capturing an exact moment, feeling or scene. One character, swearing her head off, is nevertheless 'serious as a newsreader'. Another 'performs looking for a taxi' to try and repel a pack of rowdy men late one night. The characterisation is also brilliant. Margo, as a GP, assesses Nikki. 'She doesn't have the sleepiness of a methadone user or the drowsy disgust of someone on valium.' Later, when she has to report a shocking crime, she notes that the police officer who responds is using the same verbal techniques for managing a stressful encounter as she's been taught herself ('eye contacting her half to death with training-course empathy'). Gradually, allusively, we learn about Margo's earlier life, her attempts to fit in (a consequence of adoption? Or just part of modern life?), her enjoyment of the privilege of being 'thin, young and white' and being able to sneer at those who weren't. Margo and Lilah's relationship at school in a nutshell: 'Slimness was suddenly a currency between them. They got thin at each other.' We also hear about the attitudes of the respectable (police, social workers, journalists) to those in that other world - the drug users, the sex-workers - the judgments made, the failures of the police to protect the weak. Things were worse back in the 80s, we're told (when Margo delves into the newspaper archives for information, she 'feels as if she's reading in a language language she doesn't understand, as if she's eavesdropping on aggressively heterosexual Victorians... DEAD VICE GIRL'S FEAR OF STALKER') and the book is set up as an opposition between then and now, but as one character, an ex-DI who did her best, admits, things aren't much better, her best wasn't enough. The book seethes with loose ends, with second bests, missed chances. And second chances too. Margo comes from a family - the Brodies - renowned for their bloody-mindedness, and if there's enough of them in her to get through all the dangers here, then perhaps she can begin to fix a few things. Perhaps. An intelligent, gripping and compassionate crime novel. Just a superb read.

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