August author of the month, Denisa Mina, author of a stunning new series featuring intrepid reporter, Paddy Meehan!
Review and Synopsis:
Field of Blood by Denise Mina
Publisher: Little, Brown ISBN: 0316735930
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
Mina is one of those authors who just subtlety creeps in and, before you know it, completely hooks you into whatever story she might be telling. I'm pretty sure she could write about dirt and make it thrilling. In any case, her latest once again proves her to be the master of provocative and intelligent suspense in a new novel that hold no punches.
We meet Paddy Meehan, a young woman who has lived her entire 18 short years in the city of Glasgow, a city rife with conflict as it begins the new decade of the 80's. Paddy, an overweight and exceedingly bright young woman, is just coming into her own working as a copyeditor for the city paper while pushing back against her Catholic upbringing that would prefer her to just settle in with her blue collar fiancé and raise a family. But Paddy dreams to be a journalist, and working at the paper is only her first step in what's sure to be an uphill battle, fighting against trivializing religious and sexist attitudes held by the men who, ironically, find their pleasure in a day full of drink and dismissive thoughts towards anything different from themselves.
But Paddy is no slacker and sees her chance for change when two young boys are charged with the brutal murder of a three year old. One of the boys is her fiancé's cousin, and Paddy just can't believe that he is capable of such a crime. So she begins to investigate on her own, but the closer she comes the truth, the more havoc she wreaks. Shunned by fiancé and her family, she's left to prowl the dangerous streets of Glasgow alone, unintentionally causing more harm along the way.
Mina also treats us to the story of a man with whom Paddy shares a name, a name that she has proudly worn like a badge of honor, often to the shame of others. The first Paddy Meehan's story is revealed in bits and pieces, and provides an interesting contrast to the Paddy of now. Mostly it's a telling of a city, of politics and low-life crime, of another decade or two in the past, and the eventual decline of a man accused of a crime he didn't commit.
The stories of the two Paddys are filled with such understated pathos and questionable deliverances, that the resulting affect is all that more powerful. This is one author that should be read by any fan of literature, regardless of where your interests my lie, she provides enough for all.
1. Tell us a bit about your new novel and what inspired you to begin a series based on this character.
Well, I wanted to go against the tradition of having a series character who never changes apart from minor facts in their life. I know other people have challenged that tradition but thought it would be fun to do the ultimate and make it a biography with a beginning a middle and an end and changes of tone in there. The first third and fifth are heavy tomes and the second and fourth are more about the character's inner development, reflecting the candesants in a biographical work.
As a reader I like the idea that a series is finite. I often find a writer is a bit bored of a series and yet contracted to write another and it spoils it so much if I love a character and happen to pick up the book. Hopefully, finger crossed, this misses out the duff ones because I'll be paying attention all the time.
2. Your website indicates that this is the first of five featuring this same wonderfully drawn character as she progresses through the last three decades. Why did you begin her story in the 80's and decide upon a three-decade progression, as opposed to a shorter time progression?
Well, I wondered how much any of us ever change in our lives. Culturally we're always being told about changes people go through - weight loss and gain, getting religion, changing career, looks, partner, politics, but I think we probably remain pretty constant. It's disappointing, I hoped I'd changed, I've strived hard to but sometimes I think I haven't moved on at all.
The three decade change is also about the newspaper industry: The month Field of Blood is set in was the month Rupert Murdoch bought the London Times. He completely changed the media industry over the next ten years or so. Look at Fox news - that's the future.
In the next book the fundamental shifts in the industry start to really have an effect.
3. Paddy is a very unique young woman, but one has to wonder where she might have gotten her individualism from when surrounded by such repressive forces, what can you tell us about that?
I think really repressive atmospheres act like a pressure cooker and instead of making people conform more they create renegades. Did you know that the first all female Iranian woman's team just climbed Everest in full burkas? In full burkas! I couldn't climb onto a chair in a burka.
I was at convent schools all my life and the oddest and cleverest women I know were from the same type of background. Makes you a bit angry though
4. You include the story of the "real" Paddy Meehan, tell us why this is such an important part of your story, and what you might be hoping readers will get from the juxtaposition of these two characters.
I was interested in the way stories shape us. Paddy the girl grows up with this on going story about Paddy Meehan the burglar and convicted murderer and I wanted to see how that would affect her.
If you read the author's note at the back of the book it was actually a guilt thing that I started off with the recall Paddy Meehan in a book at all. I met him years ago and dissed him so I've been trying to make it up to him.
Hopefully as the series goes on both Paddys will interact with each other and each other's stories in different ways: in FoB they run sort of parallel, in the next one of the series, The Dead Hour, Paddy Meehan burglar provides the solution to the crime and saves Paddy girl's career.
5. Your previous 4 novels, as this one, take place in Glasgow. You paint a dark and gritty picture of this city so vibrantly that it feels as if it's a character in itself, but it also seems to be infused with a love-hate type of vibe, so which is it, really?
Glasgow is hard going. I love it here and find it a very honest city, I share a lot of its values and love that people talk to each other and enjoy fighting. It's very like New York in fact. I remember a carton about New York and LA. In the LA one the person say 'have a nice day' but means 'fuck you'. In the New York one the person says 'fuck you' but means 'have a nice day'. Glaswegians are mad about courtesy but will shout at you in the street if you make the mistake of being a little rude to them.
I keep setting books here because I think most cities are universal. They're organic and many features of one city will in variably be true of any other. Except for restaurants and the quality of the coffee.
6. Anyone who has read your Garnett Hill trilogy was bound to be left enhanced and yet saddened that it ended so soon, why only three?
I felt that the character of Maureen was in a such a state at the beginning we could really only make her go through it for three and they're pretty intense to write, believe me. By the time I finished Resolution I was genuinely depressed every time I sat at the desk to work. Thank god it ended happily or I'd have committed sidey- ways.
I do miss them all though, especially Leslie. She's based on a friend of mine, so I still get to see her sometimes but I miss putting words in her mouth.
I like to think that Maureen moved off to the country side and runs a bed and breakfast or works in a nice gallery somewhere.
7. You followed your Garnett Hill trilogy with a stand-alone that continued your rather bleak portrayal of some of life's darker themes, and this new series seems to incorporate some of the same; do you get any push back from readers, publishers, agents, etc…who would rather you make things a little lighter? (Just for the record, we love your writing just the way it is!)
Not really. It was strange because Sanctum ( called deception in the US) was received very differently over here and in the US. Over here it was regarded as a kind of stepping stone to the next book about a feisty girl and over there it was cited as an important cross-over work almost immediately. It's best not to think too much about what people think of you, it makes you self conscious and almost invariably they aren't thinking about you at all, they've got better things to do.
8. We appreciate your delving into the darker aspects of life, but have to wonder how much this might affect your "waking" life when entrenched in the actual writing, and are you ever tempted to just say "screw it, I'm going to write a "cozy"?
Nah. I hate crap like that. I hate to read it, watch it or contemplate it. Even cosy dinner parties make me angry; I start swearing inappropriately or try to make a pass at the wrong guy or break something. It's ugly.
9. In your past trilogy, and with the beginning of this new series, you've obviously approached each with a limited number of books in mind; does this mean you know how it ends when you first begin?
Kind of have an idea. If you were my publisher of course I'd say yes definitely but really no, I have more of a sense of the rhythm of the narrative and how that might pan out over the series.
10. Reading your bio, you seem to have a varied and interesting background, which stage do you feel had the most influence on your writing?
I think working as a nurse in a terminal care and old folk's home. It was very humbling for a young person and made me learn to listen to people tell their stories. The people we looked after were amazing, they'd won the second war and lived throughout cataclysmic times. Many of them were women who had worked all their lives and there they were, being patronized by teenagers. It opened my eyes to a hundred other lives.
11. What do find most satisfying when writing a new novel? Least?
Starting is always good, full of hope and golden days of straight writing and being lost in the pages.
Finishing is always bad and disappointing. By the end of an edit all I can see it the mistakes and the things I didn't manage to pull off or fit in.
12. And finally, any hints about your next foray into Paddy's bourgeoning career and the tribulations she is sure to face?
Well, Paddy is always trying to be a good journalist and have integrity at the same time, which is harder than it sounds. She'll moved to London for a stint, she'll give up security for adventure and she'll always have a weakness for bonnie men. Paddy is not one to let life pass her by, we're talking big dirty men here. I think it will be difficult or her to be her own woman and do what she does for a living but by god she'll try. As we say in Scotland 'Faert fae nae bastard' (frightened of no one)
What she needs is to do the right thing by her family and be herself as well. Sadly herself is a big dirty girl who likes eating and winning.
We'll see how she gets on.
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, moving twenty one times in eighteen years from Paris to the Hague, London, Scotland and Bergen. She left school at sixteen and did a number of poorly paid jobs: working in a meat factory, bar maid, kitchen porter and cook. Eventually she settle in auxiliary nursing for geriatric and terminal care patients.
At twenty one she passed some exams and started Law school 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.
'Exile' and 'Resolution'. A fourth novel followed, a stand alone, named 'Sanctum' in the UK and 'Deception' in the US. Her fifth novel is due out in January 2005. Called 'The Field of Blood' it is the first of a series of five books following the career and life of Paddy Meehan from the newsrooms of the early 1980s, through the momentous events of the nineteen nineties until her early death in 2008.
'Garnethill' won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasy Dagger for the best first crime novel and was the start of a trilogy completed by 'Exile' and 'Resolution'. A fourth novel followed, a stand alone, named 'Sanctum' in the UK and 'Deception' in the US. Her fifth novel is due out in January 2005. Called 'The Field of Blood' it is the first of a series of five books following the career and life of Paddy Meehan from the newsrooms of the early 1980s, through the momentous events of the nineteen nineties until her early death in 2008.
For more info on Denise Mina and all her novels visit her at www.denisemina.com