Author of the Month

Name: Denise Mina

First Novel: Garnethill

Most Recent Book: Conviction

'Another excellent read from the Scottish Mistress of Crime.'

Synopsis:
It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

Review:
Denise Mina is the consummate storyteller and has refined her craft over the years. With ‘Conviction’ I was immediately catapulted into Anna’s story. Mina’s characterisation is sublime and I straight away could empathise with Anna’s retreat from her world into the podcast world. A podcast that took her away from the hideous scenes so early in the morning as her husband left with his mistress, Estelle and her daughters. Anything to escape such a blow.

However, the podcast she listens to about the murders and sinking of the Dana, will not only take her away from her troubles, it will lead her to uncover her own deceits and put her in immediate danger. The sinking of the Dana is attributed to the owner of the craft and father of the family who perished, Leon. But Anna knew Leon years ago and she knows he wouldn’t do such a thing.

Accompanied by Estelle’s jilted Rockstar anorexic husband, Fin, the two head off to find the truth… and find that thanks to social media people are now out for Anna and they want to put an end to her. Anna and Fin are not professional private investigators, so they do tend to stumble from one bad situation to another, getting themselves deeper and deeper in to a dark conspiracy they can’t quite fathom out. To begin with I was slightly irked by Fin, but soon he comes in to his own as he finds his balls and starts to become a man rather than a faded music star. By the end of the book I was routing for Fin.

The drunken chapter on the train has to be one of the most bizarre I have ever read – showing that Mina is comfortable to place humour parallel to impending violence and insidious intent. The story told even felt like a podcast one could listen to!

In ‘Conviction’ Mina, as always, grabs her reader by the scruff of the neck and propels them through a plot that is wacky, but ultimately addictive and believable as we all know that many with power and money feel they can literally get away with murder. This is a voyage of discovery for Anna and Fin, and I am sure that like me, you will be more than willing to accompany them on their voyage to their final destination. Be warned, this is no smooth cruise, but a raging sea of hidden secrets and a race to stay alive. ‘Conviction’ hits all the right notes for a classy thriller with characters you can connect with. Another excellent read from the Scottish Mistress of Crime.

Author photo by Olie Grove.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Anna’s life has come crashing down around her. She retreats to her love of the podcast. Are you a fan and is this why you included the ‘Dana’ podcast as the catalyst of what Anna does next?
I’m a massive fan of podcasts, especially true crime ones. They’re very addictive and there are amazing people out there, making brilliant stories and they’re, frankly, giving them away! The economics of podcasting isn’t really set yet, few people are making money doing them, so mostly they’re doing them for the love of a good tale.
2) We all enjoy crime fiction, but we all love a good true crime mystery, especially one that hasn’t been solved. What do you think it is about true crime that keeps us fascinated?
I think it’s the allure of the pending question. I’ve read books that I hated everyone in but kept going because I wanted to know what the answer to the question was. The questions isn’t always who the murderer is either: sometimes it’s more about the motivations of the people involved.
True crime is more free than fiction in some ways. It can be implausible, fantastical, funny, where as in fiction things have to make sense.
3) Anna is not her real name and she has been hiding for years. It feels as though she immerses herself in the ‘Dana’ case to close off the turmoil in her own life. Was this done deliberately?
Absolutely. I wanted to write about the joy of being told a story, how it can save your life when you’re down, how it can distract you in bad times and how the pending question can get you through almost anything. Commuting. Family holidays. Grief. Everyone I know who reads avidly knows this.
4) Fin is the husband of Estelle who has run off with Anna’s husband. Fin is a faded music star, anorexic and Vegan. It sounds like you had fun with him being socially dysfunctional despite being in the media spotlight?
I love Fin. I based him on David Bowie, who clearly had an eating problem as well as a coke problem when he was in Berlin (Thin White Duke times). He went broke a couple of times but what could he do? He couldn’t get a job. I felt very tenderly about Bowie. Also I had a hard time accepting veganism wasn’t just a diet in disguise but I was please with myself for getting over myself. I don’t understand it but I’m not obnoxious about it anymore. Quite smug about that one.
5) ‘The Long Drop’ was your fictionalised version of a real case and ‘Conviction’ is based on a fictionalised true crime. Was it more difficult when writing ‘The Long Drop’ as you had to keep to certain facts than just deal with your imagination?
I don’t remember that book being hard to write at all. It was a joy to write but this one – Oh! – I couldn’t stop writing it! It was a nightmare! Every time I got it back for edits I’d add more and more storylines. It wasn’t bound by time or geography or money or anything and I just kept putting more and more back story in. In the original draft Leon had seven children. You can imagine.
The last line was very heartfelt!
6) What is next for Denise Mina? Are you more settled writing standalone novels, or will you return to any of your previous series?
I’m writing a book called ‘The Less Dead’, about a series of true-life murders that happened in Glasgow in the 1990s. Nine street sex workers were killed and it was incredibly hard for the police to find any witnesses or get convictions.

The story is about a woman who goes to an adoption agency to meet her birth family after her adoptive mum dies. She finds out that her mum was one of those women and the murderer is still writing anonymously to the family.
7) With your vast experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
I’d say read as much as possible. There is no substitute for keeping a clear head and watching what other people do in their books, work out what you love and what you hate, why things work and why they don’t.

Also remember: you’re reading a finished novel and your book is a first draft so don’t be too harsh about your own work. It is useful to be able to criticise your own work and make it better but it can paralyse you if you’re too mean.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? Which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I’d have to pick fat ones because I don’t know how long I’d be there. I feel quite panicky even thinking about that question. Can I have a compendium of all of Ian Rankin, all of Val McDermid and all of James M Cain? That’d keep me going for a week or so… (Slightly cheating… but we’ll let you have that one!)