The Second Murderer by Denise Mina

This was the perfect book to read on a long ferry journey. Interesting enough to keep me reading, not too challenging so that I could pick it up and put it down several times.

Set in LA, private detective Philip Marlowe is hired to find the daughter of an extremely rich man. She has a son so the heir is sorted but she has walked out and her father wants to be able to tell her son that he looked for her. He chooses Marlowe thinking that he wouldn’t do a good job. The family had no need for Christine, the daughter, to be found but needed to build a narrative around her disappearance.

Unfortuntately for them, Marlowe is quite good at his job and found her quickly but of course then the excitement begins. There are murders and low-life, hotels you wouldn’t want to stay in and the heat. It is very, very hot in LA.

The heat of the day was rising. It was climbing out of the sewers. It was creeping out of the stones. Cracks in the sidewalk flowered open to let out heat-warmed dust that lurked in the air, ready to catch children by the throat, smother babies or hold a cushion over Grammie’s face. It was early, not yet noon, but the memory of yesterday’s sandy heat made everyone dread it, like the sound of a second cough in an empty house at two a.m.


Marlowe is not the only detective on the trail of Christine and it is his job, he realises, to see that she is not killed. He is an old-fashioned detective, a set of ethics all his own and a protective attitude towards women, hard-boiled, like Chandler’s version, and as in Chandler’s writing, the seedy and sordid are lightened slightly by the humour or ‘wisecracks’ and use of simile and metaphor. Some examples are:

  • There was something wrong, something bad in it, like a mouthful of soup with a stray hair that brushes your lip on the way in and then disappears. p1 describing the weather.
  • Her roots were so white and bright they shone like stars in a black sky. p2 describing Maud’s hair
  • . . . they were as drunk as monkeys at a rum convention. p3
  • They were the ocean that the big fish moved in, hangers-on and back grounders. The movie colony is made up of people with burning ambition and these people were warming their hands on that fire.

These are clear, often exaggerated yet show exactly how things are.

This is yet another book where a character continues long after the author has died or finished with them. Other examples where this has happened are with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a variety of authors have written further James Bond stories. Hercule Poirot has continued with Sophie Hannah and I believe there is also a new Jeeves and Wooster. Mina is the first female to write a Philip Marlowe story and it fitted the bill exactly. I wonder if this is a new genre although I am not sure what it would be called. Continuations? Character rebirth?

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