Field of Blood Summary
by Denise Mina

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Field of Blood

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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Ian Rankin has been at it longer, but Denise Mina has, thanks to her own talent and Rankin's trail blazing, established herself more quickly as one of the chief practitioners of the distinctive Scottish brand of detective fiction known as tartan noir. Over the course of nearly twenty years, and as many books, Rankin's John Rebus has solved crimes in Scotland's capital, Edinburgh. Mina sets her murder tales in the mean streets of Glasgow, home as well to William McIlvanney's Laidlaw and television's Taggart. Mina's hook is that her detectives are not professional investigators at all. Maureen O’Donnell, in Mina's Garnethill trilogy (Garnethill [1998], Exile [2000], and Resolution [2001]) works in a woman's shelter; Lachlan Harriot is husband of the forensic psychiatrist imprisoned for murdering a serial killer; and Patricia (Paddy) Meehan is an unattractive, overweight “copyboy” at the Scottish Daily News in Field of Blood, the first installment in a five-book series.

Field of Blood begins with a four-page section detailing the murder of three-year- old Brian Wilcox by two older boys and told in the third-person but from the boys’ points of view. It is a risky opening gambit in that the murder closely resembles that of Jamie Bulger by James Venable and Robert Thomson in 1993—a murder made fresh for Mina's readers by the release of the killers in 2001. Riskier still, Mina works hard to make the reader see Brian's killers in terms of social pathology needing redress rather than of evil to be eradicated, thus reversing Prime Minister John Major's “condemn more and understand less” approach to Venables and Thomson.

Mina takes other risks, too. She interweaves her protagonist's story, set in 1981, with the 1969 story of her self-chosen namesake, the real Paddy Meehan, a petty criminal falsely accused and imprisoned for a brutal murder. Mina further complicates Paddy's story by setting her struggles against the sexism of her co-workers and of her Catholic working-class family and fiance.

However, the novel is most successful when Mina is least insistent, especially in setting Paddy's story against the menacing bleakness of a Glasgow far different than the European City of Culture, that Glasgow became just nine years later.

Field of Blood may not be as good as Garnethill, but it certainly gets the new series off to a promising start.