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by Denise Mina
Little, Brown, July 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0316735949

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Paddy Meehan isn't your archetypal journalist. She's an overweight Catholic 21-year-old working class girl struggling to make her way on a cut-throat evening paper in 1984 Glasgow. Three or so years on from the action of THE FIELD OF BLOOD, she still isn't where she wants to be.

THE DEAD HOUR is dark in more ways than one. Most of the action takes place at night (the dead hour is 3am in the morning, apparently) as Paddy has the lousy job of being the reporter in the calls-car which chases round the city after the police. She's desperate to get onto the day shift, but her age, sex and background count against her in the sexist world of newspapers.

It's a cold February night when the police are called to a posh house in a wealthy suburb. The woman who's bleeding from a head wound declines any help, and the smartly-dressed man presses a 50 note into Paddy's hand to keep the story out of the papers.

The next day the woman is found dead, and she's been beaten and tortured. The mystery man wasn't her husband or boyfriend. And Paddy can't understand why the woman didn't take the opportunity to leave the house when the police arrived, and to live.

Paddy's nose for a story takes her all over a grim city, one with a reputation for stupendously high crime rates and housing estates that wouldn't look out of place in Beirut. Mina's Glasgow has people struggling along at poverty levels. Paddy frequently worries that she will lose her job -- she's the only person working in the family. That's why the 50 note -- a huge amount of money 20 years ago -- is such a big deal.

Paddy's family, with the exception of her mother, more or less take a back seat in THE DEAD HOUR. Her mother is going through the menopause and her sister Mary Ann, with whom she shares a bedroom, is still god-bothering.

And the other Paddy Meehan strand is still there, albeit in the background this time, as Paddy, sheltering in the garage of her parents' drab home, works on her true crime book about the man who was convicted of murder and later pardoned.

In many ways the plot and plotting are the least interesting aspects of THE DEAD HOUR. There's plenty to get your teeth into regarding police corruption and drugs, but it's all tidied up a tad too neatly at the end.

What makes this book absolutely captivating, though, is Paddy herself, the portrayal of Glasgow, and Mina's eye for detail -- the women with their pelvic floors wrecked by carrying too many kids rushing for the loo after Mass, and Paddy and her mother's night out at the cringe-making singing priests concert!

We already know what happens at the end of the series, as Mina has made no secret of what to expect. But I don't think I can wait a year for the next one in this superlative series!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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