The Last Breath (4 stars)

Denise Mina

Denise Mina

Bookended by two brutal slayings, this third novel in the Paddy Meehan series does everything possible to suggest that Denise Mina remains one of Scotland’s finest crime writers. She may not be revolutionising the genre in any way, but Mina is as adept as any of her contemporaries with the tools she has at her disposal. And, more than most, she has a deft touch with dialogue, setting and plot, and a real sense of holding back the shocks until the time is absolutely right. So, when a moment of horror arrives, it’s all the more chilling for its relative rarity.

The Last Breath opens with the murder of Meehan’s former friend and colleague, war reporter Terry Patterson. Despite having been out of his life for some time, she remains the next of kin on his passport which leads the police to her door while she watches another man from her past also dying, this time on a ratings-allergic TV comedy show. As the investigation into Patterson’s murder develops, the argument that it was the work of Irish terrorists becomes ever more credible (this is 1990 and a world away from Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley sipping tea at Stormont).

As if to add to Paddy’s woes, a child killer is set to be freed and is seeking her protection. All good crime stories rely on levels of paranoia and fear being cranked up as the dramatic closure approaches. As well as Denise Mina’s more obvious writing talents, she can also spin a tremendous finale.

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