Time to return two recent Denise Mina novels to the library, but let’s take a few minutes to discuss them first.
Conviction* by Denise Mina (2019)
(*Amazon Affiliate link)
Brief Summary: Anna McDonald listens to true crime podcasts to distract herself from her personal problems. When she realizes she has a connection to one of the crimes and that she might be able to solve it, the stars align to send her in search of the truth.
Review — With Spoilers:
Anna McDonald’s life is in crisis. One morning her best friend Estelle shows up at the door and announces that she (Estelle) has been sleeping with Anna’s husband, he’s leaving Anna, and even worse, they are taking Anna’s two daughters away on a long trip. Dumbfounded and suicidal, Anna turns to a true crime podcast for distraction only to realize she knows the victim, Leon. Although someone else has been convicted of the crime in the courts, the podcaster says that person is innocent and accuses Leon of carrying out a murder/suicide. However, Anna is sure the podcaster is wrong. With Estelle’s husband as a sidekick, they begin to investigate Leon’s death.
The book is written in the first person, from Anna’s point of view. Right off the bat, Anna seems like an unreliable narrator. There are hints of violence in the scene where her husband and Estelle confront her and take off with her girls. There are also strong hints of secrets to be revealed. Even though I’m not fond of unreliable narrators, given that the horrible events of the first morning would knock anyone for a loop, I was willing to keep reading.
Mina is brilliant at delivering an astonishing bit of information right when the story is seeming to slow down. For example, readers learn that Anna’s husband has done the same thing before. One morning he asked his lover at the time to show up at his previous wife’s door in a similar scenario. The only difference was the first wife did not have children. The big surprise: the lover in that case was Anna! This wrinkle/twist gives explains Anna’s complex, dark emotions — of being a gravely-wronged victim, but also the guilt of previously having been the perpetrator. What a position to be in!
The surprising twists continue right up to the end, including the revelation that Anna’s name is really Sophie and that even though she was the victim of a rape, she had be vilified by public opinion and changed her identity. No wonder she was being secretive.
A compelling story.
The Less Dead* by Denise Mina
Brief Summary: Margo Dunlap’s adoptive mother has recently passed away and Margo is responsible for clearing out the house to get it ready for sale. Instead, needing some sort of closure, she decides to search for her biological mother. She meets with her biological aunt — a recovering addict — and learns her mother was murdered years before. Margo’s aunt says she knows who did the murder, but he’s gotten away with it. Can Margo trust her aunt enough to help bring the man to justice?
Review — With Spoilers:
The story is told mostly in the close third person from Dr. Margo Dunlap’s point of view, with a few short scenes from the point of view of an unnamed watcher — creepy.
At the outset, Margo is stressed out. The only mother she’s ever known has passed away and her brother is far away, which leaves her with the task of clearing out the house. At the same time, she’s worried about her best friend’s abusive relationship. Her own relationship is unsteady. She’s left her partner, Joe, even though she is pregnant with Joe’s baby and hasn’t told him.
Things don’t improve as she finds out about her mother’s murder. Before long she is getting threatening letters, but she continues to investigate, uncovering many heartbreaking aspects of her mother’s life.
Although the ending felt a bit more forced than Conviction‘s ending, I like the protagonist better. She is more stable, and up to the end, the instability in her life comes mostly from outside events and influences.
Overall, I liked both of these novels. I will be looking for more titles by Denise Mina.