In both her Maureen O’Donnell and Paddy Meehan series Denise Mina follows many conventions of mystery and detective fiction. A murder occurs early in each novel and then clues are discovered and compiled until the murderer’s identity is revealed. The reader has the opportunity to notice and interpret clues along with the main character and often has additional information that adds to the puzzle but has yet to be discovered by the amateur sleuth.
Both series are set in Glasgow and characterized by authentic, gritty descriptions of the city’s seamy lower-class neighborhoods. Mina often links her characters’ activities and moods to their observations of, and familiarity with, Glasgow’s streets, architecture, and weather. Mina’s use of dialogue enhances the specificity of her local setting, as her characters frequently use slang peculiar to Glasgow residents.
Mina heads each chapter with a cryptic title, the significance and humor of which is revealed in the text. These chapter headings may serve as a summing up of the main character’s experience and her emotional response or may focus the reader’s attention on an apparently insignificant detail.
The O’Donnell and Meehan stories are told primarily from the young female protagonists’ points of view. Maureen O’Donnell and Paddy Meehan are not conventionally successful or attractive, but their low social positions and frequent lack of regard for their own safety allow them to discover facts beyond the reach of professional investigators. Both women tell lies easily and are capable of physical violence, and both are deeply loyal to, and frequently misunderstood by, their families.
Maureen O’Donnell is the heroine of the three Garnethill novels (Garnethill, Exile, and Resolution). The series follows Maureen, an alcoholic and former mental patient, through the aftermath of her married boyfriend’s murder. She tries to solve the crime while coping with suspicious investigators, shielding her beloved drug-dealing brother from police scrutiny, and struggling with the aftereffects of the sexual abuse she endured as a child.
The series departs from the traditional detective story format in that it contains two story arcs that are resolved over the course of three novels. One involves the central murder mystery. Maureen confronts the killer at the end of the first novel; the official police investigation provides a subplot in the second, while Maureen pursues an unrelated crime; and the murder story line is resolved in the third, again as a counterpoint to a more traditional mystery.
The second story arc concerns Maureen’s struggles as a...
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