Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Garnethill: Denise Mina

From the description in the Publisher's Weekly review:
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.

After her lover's dead body is discovered in her apartment, Maureen is one of two persons the police consider to be the most likely suspects. Some people might be intimidated by the police, but she questions their treatment of her and their methods, and she works at clearing her name. Although she was planning on breaking up with her lover, she wants to know why he was killed.

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.”
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.
The entire interview is very interesting. She has a lot to say about Glasgow, the city the book is set in.

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.

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Publisher:   Back Bay books, 2007 (orig. pub. 1998)
Length:       400 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Maureen O'Donnell, #1
Setting:       Glasgow
Genre:        Thriller
Source:       I purchased my copy.

24 comments:

  1. I have this one to read next year for the Scotland challenge, Tracy! I'm looking forward to it now that I've read your review!

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    1. I hope you like it, Peggy. Definitely perfect for the Read Scotland challenge. And I have a lot of Scottish authors I can read in 2015.

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    1. Me too, Patti. I had this book for five years and finally got to it.

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  3. I have some Mina books but I'm unsure as yet which ones, so I might get to this one. They do look a bit like house bricks. I think if her attitude in the interview is replicated in the book - I will definitely enjoy it!

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    1. I think you will enjoy this one, and the rest of the series get good reviews also. I will be looking for more in this series or maybe one of the two other series.

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  4. Tracy - Thank you very much for the kind mention. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed this novel. It is long, as you say, but I think it's very well-written, and Mina does a terrific job, in my opinion, with developing the characters. Great review!

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    1. Thanks, Margot. Your enthusiasm for this book motivated me towards finally reading it. And I was very glad I did.

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  5. I haven't read this one but I did read Still Midnight and was a bit disappointed with it as for me Mina didn't manage to capture the atmosphere of Glasgow at all. It's such a vibrant city that it should be there as big as any of the characters, but I suppose if you don't know the place then you don't realise what is missing. I'll give this one a go though as you enjoyed it so much.

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    1. When you do read this one, Katrina, I will be interested to see what you think of the portrayal of Glasgow. And it is true, since I haven't been there, I would not notice how well it is portrayed.

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  6. I do hope you'll read all the Garnethill trilogy, and the Paddy Meehan novels are excellent too - re the comment about Still Midnight - it's definitely one of her weaker books. For me, she absolutely leads the way in Scottish female crime writers (although Val McDermid is also excellent.) But Mina really understands people, and that's her strength. I read these when they came out, and I'm tempted to re-read them, as they remind me of the Glasgow I lived in. Thanks for reminding me of this great book.

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    1. Thanks for this info, crimeworm. I will definitely be continuing with more of Mina's books. I will be looking for more of the Garnethill trilogy and the first Paddy Meehan book. It will be later in 2015, but I am looking forward to them.

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  7. Interesting, thanks Tracy. Mina is a writer I've meaning to try for ages but never got around to. I must give her a go especially as she made such an impression on you.

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    1. Sarah, Mina's books may not be for everyone, but definitely worth trying.

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  8. Great! I'd heard/read so many great things about this series and so glad you enjoyed it because it means that I might enjoy it, too. Finishing 400 pages in two days is quite the endorsement. Thanks Tracy. I have put this one on my reading list.

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    1. I am glad you are going to try it, Keishon. I always like to hear you views on books.

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  9. Tracy, I often face the problem of liking too many things, too many elements, in a novel and not being able to cover everything. I don't mind dark books for I'm used to reading them with a certain detachment.

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    1. Prashant, sometimes I can detach when reading a book, sometimes not. The characters were sometimes unlikeable but always interesting in this book.

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  10. This is a great book; in fact, the entire trilogy is excellent. I loved Maureen O'Donnell's character, flawed and complex as it is. She sets about with determination to solve a murder set in her house. And she investigates it for three volumes, then resolves it in her own way. A fragile flower she is not!
    Mina is one of my favorite authors. I always rush to get her new books out of the library to read immediately.
    I liked the Paddy Meehan series, which gives a good sense of what happened to the newspaper business due to the technological advances, which mean layoffs for newspaper staff.
    And I do like the Alex Morrow books, which are very complicated psychologically. Still Midnight was the weakest of all of her series books, in my opinino. I did not like it, and was put off reading this series, but gave it another chance and read The End of the Wasp Season; what a book. It's full of twists, social and class issues, family dysfunction. It is a whydunnit, not really a whodunnit. But I couldn't put it down.
    Gods and Beasts is pretty good. The Red Road is a mind-bender, full of morale questions.
    I have gotten to know and love Glasgow through Mina's books, as tough a city as it is. She knows it and can write about it.
    Start with Garnethill. You'll be hooked.

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  11. That's moral questions, not morale, although morale in the police department is a factor.

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    1. Great description of Maureen O'Donnell, Kathy. I look forward to reading all the books. You make all of them sound so good. Got to look around for some used copies.

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  12. Abe Books has Exile and Resolution, the next books in this trilogy.

    I also want to add that Sanctum (or Deception) is not a good book, the
    only one of Mina's books that I did not like; friends agree on that. It's
    a stand-alone.

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    1. I will check those books out at Abebooks, Kathy. One of my favorite places to shop online. I will stick with Mina's series books, which will keep me busy for a long while.

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    2. Absolutely, Kathy, Sanctum was a huge disappointment. Thank goodness for Paddy Meehan, which also wrestles with the religious divide in the city. And, as you say, it's fascinating on the newspaper business before it all went hi-tech!

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