Top critical review
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on 7 February 2012
Much as I feel I should agree with Ian Rankin, who (according to the blurb) thinks that Denise Mina is 'one of the most exciting writers to have emerged in Britain for years', I'm afraid that this book just didn't do it for me.
But if you like crime novels that are all about what the investigator is thinking and doing rather than the crime itself, then you might like this.
Set in the early 1980s, it's the story of Patricia 'Paddy' Meehan, a lowly 'copyboy' and aspiring reporter on the Glasgow Daily News, who decides to investigate when two young boys are charged with the kidnap and murder of a toddler (the parallels with the Jamie Bulger case are shameless).
Mina is good at conjuring up the dour and dirty streets of 80s Glasgow, the smothering atmosphere of a working class Catholic community, and a typically sexist, alcohol-soaked newsroom of the time.
But as this is a crime novel without much to solve (it's an obvious villain) it all rests on the shoulders of young Paddy, and that was this book's main problem for me. I neither liked her nor found her to be very convincing. We're constantly being reminded of her insecurities (she tells us how fat she is on nearly every page) so all those smart remarks she manages to deliver sound very unlikely. There are far too many repetitive scenes with her boyfriend and family, talking about Paddy and Paddy's problems, when I needed to know more about the crime and the suspects.
I also couldn't understand why the narrative is interrupted at random points to give us episodes in the life of the real Paddy Meehan, a career criminal wrongly jailed for murder and the subject of a miscarriage of justice campaign in the 1970s. Yes, they've got the same name, but it seemed both gimmicky and clunky. Why not just put in an appendix directing readers to the book written at the time by Ludovic Kennedy?
I like crime novels of the character-led, analytical sort, but they've got to have a much more interesting and credible protagonist than this. It's readable, and I'd try another one of these books (this is the first in a series) if I saw it in the library, but I didn't think that it was anything special.
I found the whole thing to be a little off, a little false, she was trying too hard. Once again I'm a bit bemused by a blurb's glowing reviews - 'touching, funny and truthful' - have I missed something?