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.