Garnethill by Denise Mina

Orion, 2014, 427 p.

One of the 100 best Scottish Books. One of Scotland’s favourite books.

 Garnethill cover

Maureen O’Donnell is an abuse survivor in a relationship with a psychiatrist at the same hospital where she is receiving treatment for her continuing trauma. After a night out with a friend she tumbles straight into bed and wakes up in the morning to find her (married) boyfriend tied up in her living room with his throat slit. The police, the man’s wife and politician mother all believe Maureen, or her drug dealing brother, did it. In an attempt to make sure her name is cleared Maureen begins to investigate the crime herself.

The proximal subject matter, sexual abuse in institutions, is an important issue but I am astonished that this book could appear on anyone’s list of best or favourites as Mina’s writing leaves a lot to be desired. There is a profusion of telling not showing plus acres of unconvincing dialogue. Chapter titles tend to be people’s names but quite often those people barely appear within them. Every time there is a police interview we are told about the tape recording protocol. It is as if Mina believes the reader must be shown every little detail of her hero’s experience. We really don’t. In what must surely be a breach of police good practice one of the investigating officers conveniently gives her privileged information.

The novel is set in Glasgow but the city itself seems absent. None of its vibrancy or character comes across. Also there are constant references to the Byres Road, the Great Western Road, the Maryhill Road. No Glaswegian I have met has ever mentioned a street by name and used the definite article. It’s always just Byres Road, Great Western Road, Maryhill Road. No “the”.

Yes, the purpose of this sort of thing is the unfolding of the plot and the unravelling of “whodunit” and in this respect it just about meets the need. Yet even here there was a hiccup. Quite near the novel’s end Maureen is told the name of the murderer by one of her interviewees but Mina does not let the reader know it at that point. I don’t read much crime fiction but I would submit such an attempt to prolong suspense artificially is unfair on the reader. (That the murderer’s identity could be worked out fairly easily vitiated that attempt in any case.)

The more the book progressed the harder my suspension of disbelief became. Towards the end I wasn’t believing any of it.

Moreover the book is riddled with punctuation errors (see Pedant’s corner.) The edition I read was a reprint; the latest of numerous editions. (Goodreads lists well over ten.) How can these errors not have been spotted and rooted out long before this? Does no-one care about quality control? Some might say these are niggling concerns but when they stop a reader in his/her tracks and force a line, sentence or paragraph to be re-read to decipher the sense it becomes non-trivial.

This one is for die-hard crime fans only.

Pedant’s corner:- cagoul (cagoule,) no start quote mark for a piece of dialogue (x 9,) a missing full stop (x 7,) for badness’ sake (badness’s, x 2,) butt naked (I believe the phrase is buck naked,) a missing comma before a speech quote (x 3,) snuck (please use sneaked instead of snuck,) smokey (smoky,) “really don’t want to tell you” (I really don’t want to tell you,) “for implicately slagging her mammy” (implicitly,) the team are known (is known,) teathings (tea things,) Germoline (Germolene.)

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