The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

The End of the Wasp SeasonReviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

What I liked right off the bat about Denise Mina’s latest Detective Inspector Alex(andra) Morrow book is it’s highly evocative title. It made me think of the Shakespeare quote about a “brooding nest of vipers,” and how family members can sometimes act like serpents or, in the case of Mina’s novel, wasps. By the title alone, I could tell the book would be dark, brooding, and probably involve dysfunctional families, and this is true on all counts. The End of the Wasp Season is a page-turning and psychologically suspenseful novel you won’t want to put down.

Detective Inspector Morrow is pregnant with twins in The End of the Wasp Season and has plenty of her own family issues and black sheep in the family to deal with. As the book opens, she is attending her father’s funeral, but there was no love lost between them. It’s an ill-attended funeral, but her sleazy con-man brother, Danny, is one of the few people there and serves as a pallbearer, much to Alex’s discomfiture. It seems that one of the main reasons Danny is there at all is to get Alex to do a favor for him, to testify about the type of punishment his son Johnny should receive for raping a young teenage girl.

She doesn’t want a thing to do with Danny or with Johnny, knowing how Danny operates and likes to get his claws into people and eventually get corrupt, like himself, and sometimes them to work for him. It is hard to blame her, for she has intimate knowledge of how her brother uses people for his own benefit; but, it also makes Alex a hard-edged character more difficult to sympathize with. In the way she interacts with her family, Alex seemed to me to be like the other “wasps” of the title, who turn in upon themselves and cause pain for themselves and others.

In The End of the Wasp Season, Detective Inspector Alex Morrow works on solving the case of who viciously murdered a young woman in a wealthy suburb of Glasgow. At first, it seems to be the result of a random attack; but, she eventually discovers it was anything but random. Sarah Erroll, the woman, is found by her solicitor on the stairs, as if in the act of trying to escape. Her face has been obliterated, and one ear lobe is completely detached from her ear. The police find two sets of footprints, but there doesn’t seem to be a motive for the murder, as the victim was not robbed and had around a million euros stashed in her house. Of course, Morrow and the other police wonder how she got the money–from drugs, laundering it, or possibly from working as a prostitute–and try to find out if there’s any link between the money and her murder.

Another case that is intertwined with the one concerning Sarah’s murder is the suicide of the notorious millionaire banker, Lars Anderson. He hangs himself from an old oak tree in front of his mansion. He was a distant, arrogant man who treated his own family with contempt and disrespect, foisting off his parental duties on an exclusive boarding school. His death attracts scant sympathy, for he has helped cause a financial collapse and the loss of a great deal of money for lots of people. He made money off of it, though by the time of his suicide, he’s also hurting financially. He leaves behind two damaged teens, and a broken wife, who are now unsure how to move on with their lives.

Before he committed suicide, Lars told his fifteen-year-old son, Thomas, that he had several mistresses, and that he had other children by one of them. Sarah Elliot was one of his mistresses, though not the one with a son and daughter close in age to Thomas and Ella like his father had mentioned. Thomas believes she is, and despises her for it–never having actually met her.

Spoiler Alert: He and his boarding school friend, Squeak, are Sarah’s murderers.

The End of Wasp Season is a gritty mystery you’ll find difficult to put down. It’s an atmospheric, moody, psychologically suspenseful book that leaves Detective Morrow questioning her own dysfunctional family relationships. One other good thing about it is that, although it’s a novel in a continuing series, it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is already a fan of the Alex Morrow series, or to anyone who loves reading great detective mysteries.

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