Denise Mina was born into a Catholic family in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1966. Her father, a self-educated oil engineer, traveled frequently, and the family moved twenty-one times while Mina was young. She attended convent schools across Europe. Mina left school at sixteen and took a series of jobs in London as a waitress, bartender, cook, and meat-factory worker, then as a nurse in a home for the elderly and terminally ill. Caring for people who had lived through World War II, Mina developed an appreciation for their life stories; she was particularly moved by elderly women who had once been independent, holding responsible positions in the workforce.
In 1986 Mina returned to Glasgow. At twenty-one she passed examinations allowing her to enroll in Glasgow University’s School of Law. After graduating she taught classes in criminology and criminal law. At the University of Strathclyde she began research for a doctoral degree on why women offenders were often considered mentally ill but spent more time working on her first novel, Garnethill (1998), about a former mental patient who becomes a suspect in a murder.
Published when Mina was thirty-one, Garnethill won the John Creasey Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association, was translated into fifteen languages, and was adapted by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Scotland for television. Two subsequent novels in what became known as the Garnethill trilogy, Exile (2000) and Resolution (2001) were also best sellers in Europe.
A psychological mystery published after the Garnethill series, Sanctum (2002) (released as Deception in the United States) brought Mina greater success in the United States. Inspired by Mina’s academic research on women who develop relationships with men who have committed violent crimes, Deception somewhat humorously traced one man’s efforts to understand his wife’s involvement with a convicted murderer.
Field of Blood (2005) followed, the first in a planned five-part series featuring young Glasgow news reporter Paddy Meehan. Mina was pregnant with her first child while writing Field of Blood. Although friends had warned Mina that pregnancy and motherhood would diminish her interest in gruesome stories of human corruption, Mina portrayed with disturbing realism the novel’s central crime, the murder of a toddler by two older children. Mina felt writing about a shocking crime involving children as perpetrators would allow her to examine problems with Scotland’s treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Mina followed Field of Blood with another Paddy Meehan story, The Dead Hour (2006), and began plans to adapt the series for British television.
Mina deliberately limited the Meehan series so contractual obligations would not force her to keep characters alive after she (or her readers) had tired of them. She had found with the Garnethill trilogy that continually writing about mental illness, drug abuse, and domestic violence had somewhat depressed her.
Mina’s work includes comic books in DC Comics’ Hellblazer series, as well as feature articles, short stories, and plays for live theater and radio. She has frequently provided radio and television commentary on film and the arts for the BBC.