Sorry about that, but a quick search in Google amazingly revealed that no-one else had used Mina disturbance before. Or if they had, I’d missed it. OK, I’m stretching the English language a bit – in general parlance the noun that comes from disturb seems to have become somewhat estranged from its verb – but I was disturbed by Denise Mina‘s prize winning novel The end of the wasp season (Orion, 2011), and not just by the brutal nature of the violent crime at the book’s centre. This was the first book of hers I’ve read, and I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say that so-and-so is more than just a crime writer, but in her case it’s the space – the understanding, the compassion – she gives to most of her characters that so distinguish her. I say most, I mean with the exception of the fathers of the guilty boys; I’m giving nothing away here, but they’re a crooked financier and a wealthy lawyer out of the ultra-Larkin school of parenthood, so no problem there.
Her canvas is broad: there’s (to use Martin Amis’s term) the murderee and her engaging back story, the main initial suspects and their mum (a good woman in a Glasgow tower block) who our detective, the interesting (and twins bearing) Alex Marrow (who comes with a whole family story of her own) was big mates with when they were young; not to mention the boys (and one in particular’s messed up home situation) at their expensive public school. Throw in a whisky priest and the internal workings and prejudices of the police investigation and the problems at play there – Alex trying to get her team to care, the (par for the course) problem boss – and you have a substantial novel of contemporary life by anyone’s description.
No, what disturbed me was – is this just me? – the lack of certainty I found about what had actually happened, the justice of the outcome that the system would deliver. I’ve looked at reviews and none I found made anything of this, saw no complications, and I went back and re-read whole passages. One is led to believe there was one monster, one bystander. The cops certainly feel that way until the forensics. Except the forensics – which are not questioned in the book, just laid out – are a new and experimental technique; and we do know the father of the supposed bystander has effectively blackmailed the other boy into owning up to it all anyway. Is the ambiguity deliberate? How much are we meant to be disturbed? Regardless, the book is a powerful social document, and I shall be reading more Denise Mina in the future. And, hey, as a coda, there’s a nice slice of virtue rewarded.
Back off the page, went to a thrilling mid-day organ recital, which was part of the weekend’s Organ Festival, at Stony Stratford’s St Mary & St Giles Church, which was in turn part of the National Heritage Open Day weekend. It’s a full-blown Willis pipe organ. When the organist hits the bass pedals it becomes physical. A class of school kids had obviously never heard anything like Bach’s ‘Giant’ Chorale Prelude; some jumped out their seats. Some nice pieces showing the full range of the 1700 pipes; it’s currently undergoing restoration, but it didn’t fail us Friday lunch time. Apparently Willis organs are a big deal. This one was built 1882 for a church in Edinburgh (it cost £910); come the early 1960s, with dry rot and structural faults taking hold, it was found that it was pretty much only the organ holding the building up. Which was convenient because the organ was available when a fire on Boxing Day 1964 destroyed Stony’s own.
And so up the road to York House and the 8th Cock & Bull Beer Festival, where one imbibed beer festival halves of some fine ales in relaxed pleasant company. Apparently the first keg to be drunk dry in the evening was the Crouch Vale Brewery’s Yakima Gold. This was not a surprise but nevertheless a shame, because that meant it was all gone when I returned the next sunny afternoon looking forward to a pint, having only had a taste the day before. Why had I only had a taste? We were playing the field as a team – responsible drinking and all that (never mind declining powers of recovery) – and there was a big choice; and you have to have a mild if there’s one on. But that taste was hoptastic, fruitily spectacular, flavours bursting on the tongue. “Very pale with delicious Amarillo hops, therefore earthily aromatic and highly drinkable” it says here. Indeed. I shall have to keep an eye open.