“The Less Dead” was shortlisted for the COSTA Prize 2020.
Margot – an adoptee whose adoptive mother has recently died. She had a good upbringing and good education and now works as a doctor. She has recently left her boyfriend, and he is unaware that she is pregnant. She loves the bones of him, but circumstances have caused her to reconsider their relationship. Margot is having a difficult time clearing out her adoptive mother’s house. She has an extremely close relationship with her best friend, Lilah, a woman who is damaged and has heavy baggage of her own.
She is struggling with her new single status and the knowledge that she doesn’t know what kind of genetic pool she comes from. She wonders about her unborn baby… So, she decides to hunt for birth-mother. To her sorrow, she finds that her mother died just months after giving birth to her. Her mother was a murdered sex worker. The adoption agency grants her a meeting with her mother’s sister, her aunt Nikki. Nikki is also a sex worker and a former drug user.
Nikki is a wonderful creation. She makes no apologies for her life, or her lifestyle. She is a strong women who abhors pity and condescension. She is a realist who accepts her own actions. She did what she did to survive. She came from an abysmal background and was desperate and poor.
Along with Margot’s narrative voice, the reader is introduced to the voice of the person who killed her birth-mother. Free and still wandering the streets of Glasgow. Uneducated and disdainful and dismissive of sex workers, this person is mentally unbalanced and seems to view Margot as a replacement/inseparable from her mother Susan. Margot’s eerily similar in looks to her dead mother and this person views them as one and the same person. He/She follows Margot wherever she goes. They send Margot increasingly disturbing and threatening letters which include scraps of the rug that lay beneath her mother’s body in the crime scene photos…
This is more a social commentary than a crime novel, though of course crimes, and their investigation lie within its pages. The title really says it all, “The Less Dead“. This is how the police, and to a large extent the public, seemed to view the killing of sex workers in 1980s Glasgow. As though the women were worthless, as though their death mattered much less. They were the ‘less dead‘ and not worth a thorough investigation. These disregarded and disdained women were viewed with apathy. They were unremarkable and unmemorable and their murder investigations were given the very lowest priority.
The Glasgow setting is intrinsic to the story and is almost a character unto itself. Well described by an author who clearly loves her home city – warts and all. “The Less Dead” was inspired by the real life murders of sex workers in Glasgow in the late 1980s and early 90s.
Margot’s reluctance to keep the police apprised of her situation was frustrating, though understandable in a way – especially in light of Lilah’s frequent run-ins with the law. She puts herself in jeopardy in a foolhardy way, yet you can understand her motivation.
The ending didn’t surprise me. The journey to the ending was compelling. Recommended!In my personal opinion, one of the things I liked least about the novel was the garish cover. If it didn’t have the author’s name on it, I would never have picked it up. I much prefer the UK cover. (see below on the right)
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Mulholland Books (and imprint of Little, Brown and Company) via NetGalley.
Published: August 18, 2020 Publisher: Mulholland Books
ISBN: 9780316528511 – ASIN: B07YSMDKWF – 352 pages
After a peripatetic childhood in Glasgow, Paris, London, Invergordon, Bergen and Perth, Denise Mina left school early. Working in a number of dead end jobs, all of them badly, before studying at night school to get into Glasgow University Law School.
Denise went on to study for a PhD at Strathclyde, misusing her student grant to write her first novel. This was Garnethill, published in 1998, which won the Crime Writers Association John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel.
She has now published 12 novels and also writes short stories, plays and graphic novels.
In 2014 she was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame.
Denise presents TV and radio programmes as well as regularly appearing in the media, and has made a film about her own family.
She regularly appears at literary festivals in the UK and abroad, leads masterclasses on writing and was a judge for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction 2014. Denise Mina has been awarded the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year and the Gordon Burn Prize for “The Long Drop“.
Follow Denise Mina on Twitter @DameDeniseMina