Our reviewers take a look at the already extensive backlist of this highly acclaimed crime writer
THE GARNETHILL TRILOGY
After a drunken night out, Maureen returns to her Glasgow flat and passes out on her bed. Next morning she finds Douglas, her lover, in the next room, tied to a chair and with his throat cut. Bloody footprints made by Maureen’s slippers are on the floor and as she has a history of mental illness, the police who respond to her call think she is guilty. So far, so bad, but it gets worse. Maureen has been abused by her father, her mother is an alcoholic and her brother deals drugs. Douglas had been a doctor at the hospital where Maureen was treated, but she was never his patient. From this tangled set of circumstances and relationships, Denise Mina shocks and thrills in this her debut novel as Maureen sets out to find the truth about Douglas’s death.
This is not a comfortable read. The writing is raw and emotional, but the plot is compelling and all sympathy goes to Maureen as she blunders on to the truth. Denise Mina does not flinch in her portrayal of the disadvantaged and exploited. Bravo!
Maureen O’Donnell starts to meddle in a world full of drunks, drug abusers and poverty in order to solve the murder of Anne Harris, in an attempt to prove that her widower, Jimmy, didn’t kill her. Mina masterfully captures the dark, poverty-stricken and seedy sides of the settings in London and Glasgow and takes you to areas where most of us would hesitate to drive through let alone walk through at night.
There is graphic violence in parts, so readers of a gentle disposition – beware.
Being a fan of crime fiction myself I enjoyed the read and that the hopelessness and grinding poverty, which can lead to crime in some people’s lives, was not shied away from.
There would be plenty to talk about with a reading group. My only disappointment was the ending which was perhaps left a little too ‘open’ for my liking but I understand there is a following novel which may tie up the loose ends.
I am delighted to have found a new author that I enjoy.
Maureen O’Donnell is a damaged but feisty and well-intentioned young woman who seems to find trouble wherever she goes. In this final book in the Garnethill trilogy there are three central issues for her to contend with – the impending trial for murder of the psychologist Angus Farrell in which she is a witness, the unwelcome return to Glasgow of her abusive father, and the sudden death of an elderly woman who had asked Maureen for help. As these threads intermingle the development of the story is supported through her brother Liam, her close friends Leslie and Kilty, and a whole host of other minor characters from Glasgow’s darker side.
Presented in short sharp chapters, this is a rapidly moving storyline, set in the context of a city heatwave. The style of Mina’s writing is gritty and pulls no punches though it is also balanced with a lot of dark humour. The characters are unashamedly flawed people with their own brand of loyalty, and no one knows who they can trust. There are twists and turns in the story, right through to the final page.
DID YOU KNOW?
Mina believes Scotland produces so many successful crime writers because ‘we do have a dark sense of humour and we’re not scared of dark stuff…There’s a real emphasis on being witty in Scotland, even in crime novels.’
THE ALEX MORROW NOVELS
An excellent thriller that fairly zips along from the start. The opening chapters are brief with short punchy sentences that create tension. The characterisation is crisp and well defined with dialogue distinguishing deftly the good guys from the bad. The discordancy among the police officers involved on the case has a striking similarity with the ineptitude and friction within the criminal group and the writer draws interesting parallels between the family problems disturbing both sides.
DC Alex Morrow, is under immense strain mentally and physically to solve this case and keep her own problems private while keeping her murky family background a secret from superior officers. The style with which this story crosses divides gives it a novel approach to detective crime. I really enjoyed this book but was slightly disappointed in the ending which I felt was too sudden and neat.
Sheila A Grant
THE END OF THE WASP SEASON
A brutal, violent seemingly motiveless murder scene complete with an enormous pile of cash in Glasgow is somehow linked to the suicide of a wealthy businessman in Kent who leaves family but no mourners. DS Alex Morrow has to unravel the facts while coping with alpha male colleagues and pregnancy.
Mina creates brilliant characterisation with Morrow as the strong female lead, combined with gradually building evidence and no holds barred crime scene detail which keeps you transfixed. Knowing who the perpetrator is from the start does not detract from the mystery and thrill of the unfolding events.
I found this book compelling with characters to admire, pity and despise in equal measure. Morrow is a strong female and is as big a part of the story as the corpses and the criminals. However I believe this would be entertaining for men as much as for women. This is certainly not chick lit!
This is my first Mina book but I will definitely be reading more. Much to discuss for book groups, this comes recommended.
GODS AND BEASTS
Why did grandfather Brendan apparently assist in a Glasgow Post Office robbery, having first ensured that his grandson was out of the way and being looked after by a complete stranger; Martin Pavel? And why did he then offer himself to the robber as a sacrifice, dying in a hail of bullets?
An intriguing tale follows, linking together local politics, local policing and the stranger Pavel. DS Alex Morrow, recently returned to the force after maternity leave heads up the investigation which ultimately reveals some very shady goings-on!
This is not an author I have previously come across but on the strength of this I would certainly read more of her output.
Not as fast paced as some other thrillers but certainly enough to keep my attention – I wanted to know the ending which was quite a surprise!
DID YOU KNOW?
Her one-woman play A Drunk Woman Looks at the Thistle – a modern woman’s take on Hugh McDiarmid’s classic 1926 poem – is written entirely in rhyming verse.
DID YOU KNOW?
Mina has also written a one-off graphic novel about spree killing and property prices called A Sickness in the Family, illustrated by Antonio Fuso.
Mina is best known for her crime series, but this is a standalone novel and is a bit different from the usual crime story.
Lachlan Harriot is a 29-year-old househusband and would-be writer, whose wife has been convicted of murdering a serial killer. By using the viewpoint of a third party rather than the killer or the victim, Mina is able to focus more on the repercussions of the crime rather than the crime itself. Lachlan examines his relationship with his wife, his role as a stay-at-home father, and his changing feelings about a whole range of issues: the importance of patient-doctor confidentiality (his wife is a forensic psychiatrist), fidelity and sexuality, the connection between a serial killer and his victims, the role of the press, and family relationships. He records all this in his journal while holed away in his wife’s attic study trying to put together materials for an appeal against his wife’s conviction.
This is an absorbing novel and I fairly raced through it. The ending is totally unexpected and puts a quite different spin on the events of the story. I’d thoroughly recommend this, both as a personal and a group read. Even if you think crime is not your thing, this novel is a little different from the norm and well worth reading.
DID YOU KNOW?
Mina has been awarded the John Creasey Dagger for best first novel (Garnethill); the Martin Beck Award (The End of the Wasp Season); Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the year award (The End of the Wasp Season).
THE PADDY MEEHAN NOVELS
THE FIELD OF BLOOD
The grisly murder of a young boy and the suggestion that his killers are only children themselves give wannabe journalist Paddy Meehan the possibility of the scoop which could make her career. But as Paddy follows the trail through the murky streets of 1980s Glasgow she finds herself increasingly isolated and afraid. Paddy’s story is interspersed with episodes from the life of her namesake, the real-life Paddy Meehan, victim of a high profile miscarriage of justice in the 1960s.
I had never read a Denise Mina book before and when I read the brutal opening pages wasn’t sure I would become a fan. But, almost against my will, I was drawn into the seedy world of Paddy’s newspaper and the closed Catholic community where she lives. The portrayal of Glasgow is unremittingly grim – the houses are mean, the characters physically or mentally disfigured. But because the author cares about her characters there is an underlying feeling of warmth and hope which meant I wasn’t alienated. I was hooked by the plot and I’d recommend this to book groups who like good quality crime fiction.
THE DEAD HOUR
Paddy Meehan is a young reporter in 1980s Glasgow. Working class, lacking in confidence, she is struggling to establish a career in this sexist and rapidly altering profession. The crime story that acts as backdrop is Kate stealing a large delivery of cocaine from her boyfriend, leading to a spiral of violence as the crooks try to retrieve the drugs. Paddy, an inadvertent witness, is at risk, not helped by police carelessness and corruption.
The strength of this novel is that it is strongly bedded in time and place; first Paddy herself and then her working- class, impoverished (largely), Catholic family life. Paddy is young and feisty, not perfect, making mistakes but keeping the sympathy of the reader. The crime story unravels at a believable pace and covers greater as well as smaller details.
It is totally believable and will especially resonate with women who had to work in male-dominated places almost thirty years ago. This is such a totally assured novel that it is hard to find anything to criticise. An excellent read.
There are lots of issues to discuss across the range of personal to professional as well as the impact of crimes. But changing (or not?) times and morals are also a clear topic.
THE LAST BREATH
This gritty and uncompromising novel opens with the abduction and execution of an investigative journalist. Set in the late 1980s, it charts the quest of a tough Glaswegian feature writer to unravel the mystery of her former colleague’s death. The process leads her into threatening sectarian bars as well
as confrontation with editors and police, as she responds aggressively to threats to her family. A subplot revolves around the release from prison of a teenage relation accused of baby battering, and the attempts of the central character to shield him from the media.
The characters are well defined and the author captures the essence of the Glasgow underworld powerfully and plausibly. I had a problem with the motivation of the central character however, and the narrative strands of the novel, particularly as they were drawn together at the end.
I enjoyed the book because of Denise Mina’s descriptive writing, and it would be a useful source of discussion for the reading group.
Denise Mina was born in Glasgow in 1966. Because of her father’s job as an engineer, the family followed the North Sea oil boom of the seventies around Europe
She left school at sixteen and did a number of poorly paid jobs, including working in a meat factory, as a bar maid, kitchen porter and cook.
Eventually she settled in auxiliary nursing for geriatric and terminal care patients.
At twenty one she passed exams, got in to study Law at Glasgow University and went on to research a PhD thesis at Strathclyde University on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders, teaching criminology and criminal law in the mean time.
Misusing her grant she stayed at home and wrote a novel, Garnethill when she was supposed to be studying instead. She has now had 10 novels published.
She also writes short stories, comics, and plays, is a contributor to TV and radio, and a regular guest on BBC 2’s Newsnight Review.
The Red Road
by Denise Mina
published by Orion
An Alex Morrow novel
For further reviews of Denise Mina books please check out our Search Reviews