BOOK CLUB – The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina, from Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books. For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion may contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book from the publisher

When a notorious millionaire banker hangs himself, his death attracts no sympathy. But the legacy of a lifetime of selfishness is widespread, and the carnage most acute among those he ought to be protecting: his family.

Meanwhile, in a wealthy suburb of Glasgow, a young woman is found savagely murdered. The community is stunned by what appears to be a vicious, random attack. When Detective Inspector Alex Morrow, heavily pregnant with twins, is called in to investigate, she soon discovers that a tangled web of lies lurks behind the murder. It’s a web that will spiral through Alex’s own home, the local community, and ultimately right back to a swinging rope, hundreds of miles away.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page). I may be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go:

  1. First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  2. s this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  3. If you read Still Midnight, what do you think of the differences in Alex from that book to this one? Do you like her more? Less? Did you find the transition believable?
  4. Mina continues to focus on the bonds of family in The End of the Wasp Season, how does that play out for the different characters?
  5. What do you think really happened to Sarah? How did it play out between the boys?
  6. Any other questions? Anything else you want to discuss?

12 copies of The End of the Wasp Season were provided by Hachette in order to facilitate this discussion.

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43 comments to BOOK CLUB – The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

  • I have not read the first Alex Morrow book, but I plan to – I found her fresh and relatable, a real woman. It’s so rare, at least for me, to find women in books who are strong and tough, but still have honest emotions, all without being “quirky” (ugh). I can’t relate to quirky. I can relate to Alex Morrow. It’s also refreshing to see a female detective who isn’t exactly a genderless hardass, who can admit softness to herself, but who knows how to store it away and be calm and professional.

    Jen, I’d be especially interested in your thoughts on Alex’s relationship to her pregnancy as a working woman, since you were pregnant with twins recently yourself!

    • I think the pregnancy and its impact on Morrow would be interesting to dissect, too. (Actually, I wonder how much of her apparent personal growth can be attributed to the huge amounts of progesterone pulsing through her body!)

    • Those are the things I like about Morrow, too.

      I also wondered how much her pregnancy is affecting her attitude (both good and bad) in this book.

    • I do think her pregnancy may be a big part of why she has softened up. It seemed like a lot of the reason that she was so hard in the first book was the fact she had lost her son (and wasn’t really telling anyone!). I think the pregnancy shows that she has decided to allow herself to hope again in general, it shows us that she and her husband must have patched things up somewhat and decided to continue living their lives. Probably the idea of having twins also brings with it even more hope because, unless Morrow went off and had IVF, it is a rarity enough that it seems to sort of counteract the rarity of losing your little boy to meningitis.

      • I am really curious to see with the last book what she is like with a mother and how much of her “original” personality returns – granted that it had been affected by earlier tragedies. She was so into her babies and seemed to be getting such a clear happy pregnancy drugs, that I wonder. It will be interesting to see how she interacts with her job in this different stage of her life. Grief, elation and what will be her day-to-day.

        • Agreed. I’m very interested to see how this pans out.

        • Ditto – her relationship with her husband was so lovely in this one. And I’m very intrigued by all your comments about how much she’s changed! Plus, omg, her brother didn’t even know her son had died?!

          • You have to go back and read the first one. Her relationship with her brother is cray. It took an interesting turn in this book. I was glad that she softened and it got less antagonistic. I was really worried about them for a minute.

  • I didn’t have strong initial impressions of this book like I did with Still Midnight. It’s so tragic, though! One of those awful situations where the outcome seems inevitable. I wish there had been a little bit of hope for the boys, though

    • Yes – but so gripping that the outcome for Thomas was in question until the very end. Despite his horrible actions, the reader really feels for him (at least this one did), especially once we find out the truth of his sister! Though in some ways it seems he took the fall for Squeak, I felt that maybe paying for the crime could be good for Thomas – he needed to be seen and to matter; now he needs to pay for what was done and start his life over again when he’s released (after all, he’ll be in his mid-thirties at the end of his sentence, and that’s not even that old!).

      Of course, who knows what would happen to him in jail…perhaps Ms. Mina can write a flash-forward novel for us!

      • I felt awful for Thomas. I actually felt awful for everyone except Lars…until Squeak’s dad told Thomas about Lars’ history. This was an awful case of horrible stuff being passed down from generation to generation. Ugh.

        • Yes, exactly what I was getting at. It seems like, for Thomas in particular, the ending was essentially a foregone conclusion. I’m not sure what he could have done differently to not have ended up how/where he did. So devastating.

        • Everyone but Lars, and Moira was also quite hate-able! Ugh. When she comes home with shopping bags after Thomas calls her about the doctor’s visit…UGH!

          • Jen

            I forgot about that – I wanted to reach through the book and let her have it!

          • I agree, as an adult, Moira should have been taking care of her children instead of shopping…but everyone in the family was so terrorized by Lars, it seemed, that I even had some compassion for her.

    • Apparently most of my comment got eaten. I’ll try to reconstruct it …

  • Ariel

    1. My general impressions of this book was that I liked this one so much better. It may have been because I already had a general knowledge of the basic characters.

    2. I would not have read this if not for a book club. I find that I prefer another Scottish writer, Alexander McCall Smith. I tend towards more of the cozy mystery than than this kind of crime fiction. The only Scotland I knew before this was the world of Isabel Dalhousie where the worst thing that happens is Cat falls in love with another unsuitable man. Fans of Tana French, of which there are many, would probably really enjoy these Mina novels. That said, I do love a book club discussion so count me in to this series.

    3. I did like Alex more in this book. I was glad to see that she took another chance on parenthood again and was richly rewarded with twins. I like how she tries to do the right thing and is not judging people based on their circumstances like some of her colleagues.

    4. There were two kinds of families contrasted in this novel. The richest family was the one with the most problems. They had to deal with adultery, murder, and mental illness. Conversely the family that was poor because it was headed by a single mom raising four kids on a limited budget was the healthiest. That family had love and respect. I think Mina was trying to show that it is not money that ties a family together but love.

    5. I think Sarah was just a victim of mistaken identity. Once she made her choice on how to support her mother I think she kind of died inside before the boys even came to her house. I don’t know if her plans to reinvent herself in New York would have really worked out. The tragedy of Sarah helped Kay who deserved some luck her way and I did really love the ending of the novel. As far as Thomas goes you cannot help but feel sorry for him. I think Alex did for sure. Thomas’s father ruined his life. A point that is really driven home when Squeak’s father makes an appearance at the end. He is the kind of father that Lars should have been.

    • I found Squeak’s dad to be not so great, actually. Better than Thomas’s dad? Well, sure, so it would seem. But we certainly don’t see much of him. And he didn’t want his son around at home …

    • Ah, I forgot to comment on the family aspect of the book. I agree with you that Mina is showing readers that money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. This is something that’s already been studied and commented on in reality, too. It has been shown that money only makes people happy to a certain point–the point at which there is a roof to live under, food to eat…at the point where a person doesn’t have to worry about surviving. After that point, more money doesn’t equal more happiness, and the reverse has actually been shown to be true. I liked that Mina used this in Wasp Season.

      I really liked Kay’s family. They seemed like a good bunch of folks.

    • I liked that we got to see a pretty functional family this time around, Kay’s family just seemed wonderful, multiple deadbeat dads or no. In Still Midnight everyone ended up being pretty screwed up.

      • Yes, LOVED Kay’s family. And so nice to see a struggling poverty-class family that still loves each other and enjoys life. Speaking of which, the class distinctions were subtle but very thought-provoking.

  • I likely would have read this book, since I read and enjoyed the first in the series.

    I found that Morrow was much changed between books 1 and 2. I found myself disappointed that nearly all of that development happened off stage and we didn’t get to see it. I was surprised by how very much more healthy Morrow was in such a short timeframe, almost to the point of unbelievability. I’m glad she’s healthier, but I felt disconnected from her since we didn’t get to see/experience her growth.

    Likewise, I found the healing in Morrow’s relationship with her husband to be almost unbelievable. I’m guessing if I hadn’t read the first book, I wouldn’t know the havoc past tragedy had wreaked on their marriage. I was glad for more development of her relationship with Danny. I liked looking at Kay’s and Thomas’s situation through the eyes of family. How much of a stretch would it be to look at the squad as a family? Pretty messed up, sure, but Morrow for one spends a lot more time there than with her actual relatives.

    It felt clear to me that Thomas played the lead role in what happened to Sarah. Mina’s insertion of some question as to who did what was nicely handled, though.

    • I was surprised at how much Morrow had changed, too, and also disappointed that the majority of it happened “off-screen.” I went through it in my head–how things possibly went between Morrow and her husband, how that would have affect Morrow’s healing process–and decided it was believable, but I still would have liked to read about it. I do think it should have been part of this book.

    • I was also a little disappointed about how much happened off-screen, it almost read to me like there was push back on just how screwed up she was the first time around and Mina and her editor decided to bring her a little more in line, eliding over a lot of the work that Morrow would have had to go through to make this all happen, just toning her down a bit. We’ll see when we read Of Gods and Beasts if that seems to hold true.

    • I’m late to the party because I only got the book one day before the discussion – BUT, I have to agree that Morrow’s change was pretty extreme from book I to book II…and I found her way more likable (although I would have liked to see her relationship with Brian spin out between books 1 and 2 more).

  • Even though I enjoyed both, I think I liked this one better than the first one. The character’s personalities are really starting to form now for me.

    I’m still not sure if I like Alex. I still don’t dislike her, but I’m still not sure that she’s someone I would hang out with in real life. There are things about her that I really love (like her outspokenness and her attidude [sometimes]), and there are still things about her that I’m not fond of (she still holds some weird prejudices, I think, even though she may not be aware of them). Although I must say that I liked her a bit better in this book than I did in the last book. I do find the changes in her believable, and I think the transition is a smooth one so far. I am so, so happy that it looks like she and Danny are going to try to work things out, because I really like Danny for some reason.

    Moving on to Danny, though, there are still some things about him that annoy me. He’s definitely becoming more of a human being (as far as character development goes)–the scene at the funeral and his pleas for his son really hit my heart–but he’s still got a lot to work on. I had to give the sarcastic laugh when he was pleading with Alex to talk to the psychologist about his son, “I’m trying.” Well, you may be trying, Danny, but your choice of careers really doesn’t make you the best role model for your son, now does it? I’m interested to see how that part of the story progresses.

    Okay, about Thomas and Squeak…I don’t have a solid opinion about who actually killed Sarah. I have a couple of theories, though. I was really confused when we were led to believe that Squeak was the one to stomp on her face, since Squeak seemed to be the more level-headed of the two while they were in Sarah’s house. Thomas was SO ANGRY, and Squeak seemed liked the meek boy who was just along for the ride. He was even trying to calm Thomas down, if I remember correctly. Then all of a sudden he’s all wound up and he’s stomping on Sarah’s face? That was weird to me. I couldn’t reconcile that with the way each of the boys was acting while confronting Sarah. But then as the story went on, I started to second-guess myself. Squeak was being so shady about the whole thing, it seemed, and it started to look like he was the real tough guy while Thomas was just acting the tough guy. Then Squeak was so forthcoming with the police and he’d done everything in his power to make them believe Thomas had done it, that I was SURE it was Squeak. Haha!

    So, theory #1: It was Squeak and that’s that.

    Theory #2: Thomas did it, but has either blocked it out, or convinced himself it was Squeak because it was so traumatizing. Knowing the psychological background of his family, I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas has some severe psychological problems that he either isn’t aware of, or that he blocks out most of the time. Both of his parents had psychological issues, his sister has issues…it stands to reason that Thomas wouldn’t be the only one in the family that escaped those genetics. (Plus, the way Thomas and his sister were treated by their parents really didn’t help.) So it’s very possible that Thomas is the one who killed Sarah, but that he’s created a scenario in his mind in which he just stands by and watches Squeak do it.

    As a sidenote: I really, really liked Kay Murray.

    Another sidenote: I love the dual meaning of the book’s title, even though I didn’t even think about it until late last night when a friend on Goodreads asked me about it.

    • THAT was the question I meant to ask that I then couldn’t remember when I came back to edit the post! The title! Can you go a bit more into what you liked about it?

      • The rich people could be seen as WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), in the most derogatory way. The book showed how the rich families fell apart and were punished for their greedy, insensitive ways, while Kay’s family ended up prospering through their kindness. So the “end of the wasp season” showed the end of Thomas’ family (and Squeak’s, in a different way), and also the insect wasps dying at the end of their season.

      • I suppose the “end of the wasp season” could also apply to all of the rich people losing their money through the shady practices of the banks and investors like Lars.

    • Apparently I missed the dual meaning of the title on this one. I liked the wasp scene at the beginning, but the one at the end felt tacked on or something, to me.

      • The last scene with the wasp should have clued me in right away, and it didn’t–I was too focused on the interaction between Thomas and Squeak’s father. The wasp landing on the WASP. Heh.

    • I’m curious to see what everyone thinks about whether it was Thomas or Squeak. She made a pretty strong case for Squeak getting out of control and doing it. How do you all think each of the boys was sentenced? Who will take more responsibility?

      • I think Thomas did it (but I’m not sure how confident I am).

        That said, I don’t think Squeak should be let off lightly (like he thought he would be) because he was messing with evidence after the fact, at the very least.

      • I think Thomas will end up taking more responsibility (and not just because it seems like he wants to, in a way), and I also agree with Word Lily that Squeak shouldn’t get off easily (which he won’t, since he’s technically an accessory and because he tampered with evidence). HOWEVER, who knows, since Squeak’s dad is a powerful lawyer. He’ll probably just get a slap on the wrist.

      • I felt pretty strongly it was Thomas – he had a lot of flashbacks of the scene (which I suppose you could make the argument that he was traumatized…but I saw it as his guilty conscience). Thomas really is a sociopath, I think…and I think Squeak was just easy to manipulate and Thomas did the manipulating. Here’s the thing – we don’t really see the whole thing from Squeak’s POV – it is all coming through Thomas who is an unreliable narrator.

  • Jen

    I liked this book a lot more than the first one honestly. I agree with a few of you that it felt like a lot of Alex’s changes happened off-screen. I was looking forward to reading more about her relationship with her husband and Danny, but it seemed to just have been fixed between the two books. Well, with her husband at least. Danny is still a work in progress. I do like Alex though!
    Thomas’s family has so much dysfunction it is hard to know where to start. You feel for him and his sister though because obviously they were not raised in a stable home. I did not like Lars at all – obviously. I was so sick of reading “his other wife” UGH!
    I liked Kay and her family. I thought it was interesting with her connection to Danny and Alex’s past as well.

  • My apologies for being late to post – but I got the book so late and I had other reading commitments as well…but here goes:
    General Impressions:

    I liked this one MUCH better than the first one. I felt like Mina really hit her stride with not only the characters, but the way the plot was structured. I also found Alex so much more approachable and likable (and likewise, found Bannerman more hateful!). The perps in this book were less sympathetic and funny, I thought…but also, more complex which I appreciated.

    Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?

    I was ready to read a Mina novel – but not sure this series would have been my pick if not for the Book Club.

    Mina continues to focus on the bonds of family in The End of the Wasp Season, how does that play out for the different characters?

    I found the family aspects more interesting in this one – especially Kay and her relationship with her boys; and also I liked how Mina continued to develop the relationship between Alex and her brother. And then, of course, there is Thomas and his totally dysfunctional family which was a bit fascinating – sort of the A-B-C’s of how to create a criminal! LOL.

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