Denise Mina's newest book opens with the shocking murder of Terry Hewitt, former boyfriend of her protagonist, Paddy Meehan. They had known each other since they were both in their teens, eleven years ago, but it had been six months since they had seen each other. Paddy is now 27, and has graduated from her lowly position at the Daily News to her present celebrity status with a regular column of her own, in addition to being a published author. Terry, in turn, had just signed a book deal of his own, and Paddy is told by the police that his killing "had all the hallmarks of an IRA hit...his body found stripped naked in a ditch, single shot to the head." He had been a journalist as well, later "went to war zones, conflict zones, did hard reporting on a world stage...the last of a dying breed...had witnessed corruption and brutality, women raped and murdered, children mutilated, whole villages put to the torch...a fifteen-year-old Angolan boy, shot between the eyes right in front of him." But in the moments before he is killed, after thinking that he "had been arrested in Chile, seen a woman necklaced in Soweto, stood on the edge of a riot in Port-au-Prince," he has no idea why he is about to be murdered on a road on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland.
In many respects Paddy has changed little over the years since she first appeared in Ms. Mina's books, of which this is the third: She still hates her appearance, believing she is too fat; still feels she has to prove herself to the misogynistic men around her; though she attends Mass, she still rebels against her family's Catholicism--her sister is a nun, "wasn't even prepared to take communion and had had a child out of wedlock," a son, Pete, now nearly six years old, who she adores. When she is told by the police that Terry had listed her as his next of kin, with her new address that she didn't even realize he had known, she has no choice. When the effects of that investigation threaten not only Paddy but her son as well, the stakes are raised all the way around.
A parallel story line deals with the release after nine years in prison of young Callum Ogilvy, who with another boy had been found guilty of the brutal murder of a toddler, following Paddy's investigation - she had been engaged to Callum's cousin, Sean - described in an earlier book.
Ms. Mina's descriptions conjure up her characters precisely, e.g., someone's wife is "blond, tall, and so thin she could have opened letters with her chin;" in a photo she sees "a woman of eighty, arms crossed, grinning, the folds in her skin deep enough to lose change in;" and, of her editor: "Nature, time and his temperament had conspired to perfect McVie's glower. His face and posture fitted around misery as neatly as cellophane over a cup." The author maintains an undercurrent of menace. Paddy is a gutsy, slightly vulgar and very human protagonist, the characters and the setting very well drawn, the writing and the story taut with a hold-your-breath quality. Highly recommended.