Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Rapid Reviews : The Field of Blood by Denise Mina

I've discussed this before but I've my good friend Michael to thank for introducing me to the novels of Denise Mina, the Glaswegian crime writer. He lent me her first three novels, 'the Garnethill trilogy', and I fell in love with her writing style. I decided to keep an eye out for the series of novels Mina wrote featuring Patricia 'Paddy' Meehan, the aspiring teenage journalist who is the central character in The Field of Blood, but this task proved fruitless until my holiday in Settle when I picked up that very book, the first in the series.

The novel grips from the very first page; an uncompromising account of a toddler's murder by two boys that is heavily redolent of the infamous Jamie Bolger case. The setting for The Field of Blood is Glasgow, 1981. Paddy Meehan is an overweight teenage girl working as 'copyboy' on the Scottish Daily News with a view to becoming a journalist. The police consider the child's death an open and shut case, but Paddy alone is convinced there's a much bigger story lurking and, convinced it will help her make her name on the paper, she sets out to investigate.

Mina's books are very well written, unflinching in their depiction of the seamier and violent side of life and yet shot through with a very witty gallows humour that is distinctly Glaswegian. I was particularly amused by this description of Paddy stumbling across the naff quiz show Mrs and Mrs on the TV;

"She twisted the channel dial to ITV and sat down before the picture had resolved itself. It was a quiz show. A saccharine host was asking a portly woman from Southampton questions about her tiny bespectacled husband, trapped in a sound proof booth and smiling like a baby sitting in warm shit"

Mina's preoccupation with violent abuse/crime, especially against women - a central theme in the Garnethill novels - is just as prevalent here and just as satisfying to read, albeit disturbing in such accounts. Paddy is such an engaging and believable character - with her strong sense of humour, her concerns about her weight and her 'fat arse', her ridiculous diets and the guilt she feels about letting her strict Catholic family down - that we are suitably concerned for her safety. Less satisfying however is the inclusion of a secondary plot, drawing parallels between this fictional female Paddy and the real Paddy Meehan. I'm not altogether convinced these excursions into 'faction' help the novel or bring it together, beyond reminding us that police corruption is rife and people will confess to, or say, anything for a bit of peace. It feels like Mina too isn't too convinced and she neglects to give these 60s set excursions its own focus in separate chapters not long after she adopts such a style, leaving her Paddy to consider her namesake in little asides for the rest of the book. It's quite telling that the novel concludes with an author's note in which Mina reveals she met and interviewed the real Paddy Meehan in the late '80s when she was a law student as a favour for her mother who knew the wronged man. She admits to being less than sympathetic to his life story and his theories regarding MI5 being behind all his tragedy and bad luck, leaving me wondering whether this novel is in some way atoning for her youthful contempt and arrogance, not just to Meehan but also to her mother. 

The Field of Blood was subsequently made into a two part drama series for the BBC starring the pretty and not at all overweight Jayd Johnson and Peter Capaldi (below). Mina's second novel in the series The Dead Hour was subsequently adapted for the screen last year. Both are available on DVD and I recommend them wholeheartedly. But for now, I know I'll be tracking down the adventures of Paddy Meehan in print.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm with you on the "real" Paddy Meehan stuff. It doesn't add anything to the main plot at all -- I kept expecting it to parallel Paddy's story in some way, but if there was any real link between the two it eluded me completely. I've got a sneaking suspicion that, at an earlier stage in the novel's development, Mina probably intended there to be more significance to the character's name than there ultimately ended up being in the final draft. If memory serves, the subsequent two novels barely even mention the Meehan business -- a choice David Kane also made with his TV adaptation.

    And yeah, much as I liked Jayd Johnson in the role, she was in no way the Paddy I envisaged when I read the books. I seem to remember Mina trying to reconcile the differences in an interview when the TV adaptation first aired, saying something to the tune that Paddy wasn't actually as overweight as she thought she was, but that really didn't chime with the way she was written in the books, with comments about her being out of breath after climbing a single flight of stairs, and so on. Not to mention the fact that, in the TV show, virtually every character she encounters talks about her as if she's 20 stone! When I first read the books, I visualised her as a younger version of the actress who played Siobhan in the John Hannah Rebus series (an even more inappropriate piece of casting).

  2. Yeah, I got the feeling Paddy saw herself as far fatter than she actually was because, apart from lines like 'whose that fat lassie?' which would seem to negate such a view, its telling that Sean reveals his workmates comment on her big lips and her small waist. Besides I do think attitudes towards obesity thirty years ago was nothing like obesity now; with overweight people in the minority it was more striking and therefore gained more comment. What I mean is what was considered fat then, isn't what is fat now if you get me.
    And yet that said, I still imagine someone more dumpier than Jayd Johnson reading this...but I do think she's excellent in the role. It's funny, I've been rewatching early Dalziel and Pascoe recently and everyone refers to Warren Clarke as 'yon fat bugger' or similar, even when there are clearly bigger actors in the cast around him!
    Ah yes, Hannah's Siobhan...a total wtf where they thinking moment. Claire Price in the Stott series is much more Siobhan, even though some fans would argue she's a touch too pretty.