Eight months after spending almost half a year in a Glasgow psychiatric hospital devoted to treating sex abuse victims, Maureen O'Donnell is desperately trying to hold together her shattered life. Bored with her job at a theater ticket office and depressed because her affair with one of the hospital's doctors, Douglas Brady, is over, Maureen and a friend get drunk. The next morning Maureen finds Brady's body in her living room, his throat cut.I loved this book. Midway through I was thinking that it was a really uncomfortable book and the characters were hard to like. But by the end I was won over completely. I read 400 pages in two days, which is an accomplishment for me.
The story deals with tough topics: incest, patient abuse, drugs, unemployment, dysfunctional families. It is a very dark story. There is an optimistic resolution, but many of the characters in the book are not very pleasant people. Nor is there the possibility for a truly happy ending.
There as so many things I liked about this book it is hard to cover them all. The policemen start out seeming heavy-handed to the extreme, treating Maureen and her brother badly in interviews. As the novel progresses, they become more human. I liked that progression in their behavior and characteristics.
Maureen is a character you grow to love. She has been in a mental institution recently, which leaves its stigma. She has a dead end job. But she is fiercely independent and determined to find out what is going on around her. Maureen is a caring person, and willing to put herself out to protect others. She is not entirely likeable, but the reader roots for her in making the effort to take control of her life.
This description of Maureen's manipulative alcoholic mother is painful.
Maureen didn't want to go. Sober Winnie was almost as much work as Very Drunk Winnie and Very Drunk Winnie was a lot of work. She was angry and vindictive, shouting carefully personalized abuse at whoever happened to be in front of her, casting up any failure or humiliation, however petty, always going straight for the jugular. It was her special talent, she could find anyone's tender spot within minutes. Sober Winnie was an emotional leech, demanding affection and reassurance, bullying them with her limitless neediness, crying piteously when she didn't get her own way.And it goes on.
As a warning to readers who might be offended, there is lots of cursing in this book. I don't find cursing off-putting at all, but this book is filled with it from beginning to end. A lots of the words (both profanity and otherwise) I am unfamiliar with, and I am glad that they did not try to Americanize it.
In the back of the edition I read, there are excerpts from an interview with the author, in 2004 at L.A. Weekly:
L.A. WEEKLY: You started writing crime fiction because you were, and I quote, “fed up with big men solving crimes with women in the background.”The entire interview is very interesting. She has a lot to say about Glasgow, the city the book is set in.
DENISE MINA: Yeah, absolutely! I don’t know how it is in L.A., but everywhere I go in Glasgow, there are wee guys shouting abuse at you. “Show us yer tits!” That just doesn't happen to male protagonists at all. I think it’s a very different landscape if you’re a woman.
In addition to two other books in the Garnethill trilogy, Mina has written a trilogy of books about journalist Paddy Meehan, and a third series about Glasgow DI Alex Morrow.
See Bernadette's review at Reactions to Reading and Margot's Spotlight post at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.
Publisher: Back Bay books, 2007 (orig. pub. 1998)
Length: 400 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Maureen O'Donnell, #1
Source: I purchased my copy.