Denise Mina - Garnethill (1998)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
There was a time when the Glasgow-set detective story meant little more than the adventures of one craggy-faced chief inspector, handy with his fists, the originator of that oft-recited catchphrase: 'There's been a murrrder … ' From the late 90s, however, when a clutch of Scottish crime writers began garnering attention for innovations within the genre, Denise Mina achieved instant success for her striking depiction of the city's dark criminal underbelly, Garnethill.
On one level, the novel certainly adheres to generic conventions, with an urgent investigation into a grisly death at its heart. Mina's reluctant detective is Maureen O'Donnell, graduate with distinction from the school of hard knocks who, having survived an abusive childhood, a spell in psychiatric care and the unwelcome interventions of her dysfunctional family, lives in splendid isolation, surveying the dear green place from atop a tenement in Garnethill. Her brief peace is unceremoniously shattered when her lover, a psychiatrist with secrets of his own, is murdered in her flat, while Maureen lies passed out drunk in the bedroom. Harassed by the police, Maureen sets out to find her own answers, her investigation bringing her into contact with a memorable collection of invidious lowlifes.
Inevitably, a brief synopsis cannot do justice to Mina's novel. As well as a compelling tale, the book is remarkable for its vivid, imaginative evocation of the cityscape as viewed from Maureen's self-imposed exile at one of the city's highest points. Also striking is the blackly funny tone, and the warmth Mina extends to her characters. Drunks, drug-dealers and petty criminals are revealed to have complex motivations, while Maureen herself is a marvellous creation, compassionate and vulnerable as well as bold and tenacious.
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