Denise Mina is often cited alongside Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre, and Val McDermid as a leading writer of the Scottish crime fiction popularly known as tartan noir, a reference to film noir, a genre known for its bleak point of view and focus on corruption. Tartan noir typically features black humor, profanity, and realistic, flawed characters whose behavior raises questions about the distinction between innocence and guilt.
Mina’s fiction reveals a strong social conscience; her characters experience poverty, religious conflict, unemployment, workplace discrimination, addiction and the ugliness of life on the wrong side of the law, all within the framework of the traditional murder mystery. Mina goes beyond puzzle making to write realistically about young women’s lives in the poorer urban neighborhoods of Glasgow, although critics note that Mina’s highly detailed and often grim settings can overwhelm her novels’ central crimes.
Mina’s heroines are unconventional for the genre: young, working-class Scottish women who have suffered or witnessed the effects of childhood sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, and mental illness. These characters are complex, deeply affected by these experiences but intelligent and proactive; they have been exposed to brutal violence and can even behave violently themselves. They become psychologically stronger over time, develop and maintain relationships with family and friends, defy religious and social expectations, and overcome legacies of abuse.