Garnethill by Denise Mina

garnethillGarnethill by Denise Mina

Carroll & Graf, 2001

I bought my copy of the book.


Garnethill is the first in a trilogy of books featuring Maureen O’Donnell, a reluctant PI in Glasgow. She recently returned to work at her dead-end job in a ticket booth after a stint in a psychiatric hospital. After a night spent drinking with her friend Leslie, who runs a battered women’s shelter, she finds her lover Douglas, a psychiatrist, murdered in her living room. She is sort of a suspect in parts of the book, but basically she decides– foolishly at times– to investigate Douglas’s murder on her own without  help from her younger brother Liam and Leslie, both of whom are very protective of her.

It’s a book with heavy subject matter besides murder: Maureen was hospitalized after recovering memories of being abused by her father, the crimes involved women institutionalized in psychiatric hospitals, and Maureen’s family displays quite an array of dysfunction in reaction to Maureen’s abuse.  Thank goodness for the close relationships Maureen has in the book or the book would be exceedingly grim: her friends are funny and supportive, and Maureen herself has learned some productive coping mechanisms that help her as she is investigates the crime further.

My only quibble with the book is the rogue-PI turn the book takes: I’ve read that story before many times, and it seems a bit out of character for Maureen. The world the characters live in and their relationships is the strongest part of the book. I’m looking forward to reading lots more by Denise Mina. This book is the perfect antidote to the tortured-male-antihero books/shows I’m growing a bit bored of.

Other reviews appear in Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, Bitter Tea and Mystery, and Reactions to Reading.

24 thoughts on “Garnethill by Denise Mina

  1. I’m very glad you liked this, Rebecca. I understand what you mean about the ‘rogue PI’ aspect of the story, but I do like Maureen’s personality and I agree with you about the relationships in the novel. I think it’s a stark, honest, interesting portrait of the lives of the working class/working poor/poor in Glasgow.

  2. Thanks for linking to my review, Rebecca. I enjoyed Garnethill so much I bought the next book in this series and the first book in each of Mina’s other two series. I did have reservations while reading the book and I kept “yelling” at Maureen to stop putting herself in danger. Yet I ended up very happy with the overall feel of the book.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who “yells” at characters 🙂 I’m ready to pick up the rest of the trilogy soon. Thanks for inspiring me to take this off my shelf, Tracy.

  3. Reblogged this on Nordic Noir and commented:
    Nordic Noir love to see Denise doing her thing at live events…Wordopolis reviewed Garnethill which many of us have read… If you like Scottish crime fiction Denise’s books are a good place to start…

  4. I’m glad everyone likes Denise Mina, I’m forever raving about her. As Margot points out, it’s a great portrayal of being poor in Glasgow; trying to get by. So many male authors portray Glasgow as a place full of hitmen with guns – it’s so not. The very rare people who are shot are targeted, because they owe a lot of money, or they’re trying to muscle in on someone’s turf, dealing-wise. It’s the 16 year olds with knives you have to watch, as they have no fear. What makes Denise Mina’s books different is that she writes from the perspective of a female in a tough, working class environment. Her books were a revelation in Glasgow when they first came out. She has a fine ear for working-class Scots dialogue (“the patter” -lol!); better than any male writer today.

  5. She’s on my tablet to be read sooner rather than later! I’ve heard nothing but great things about Denise Mina. Thanks for reviewing this one.

  6. This was the first Denise Mina I read just about 2 years ago and I was bowled over by that fantastic voice of the character. Such a strong, unique voice! Yes, she is sometimes reckless and endangers herself unnecessarily, but, as you point out, her anxieties, her family relationships, her daily life do ring very true.

    • I loved Maureen – she was the first character in a book I felt I met have met – or one of her family, like Liam. There’s a lot of Liams in Glasgow!

  7. I loved the Garnethill trilogy. I’m another reader who raves about Denise Mina. Because my library system idiotically culls out “old” books, this series isn’t even in it in real book form.
    So, I bought the first book so a friend could read it. I may buy the next two for her and to have them.
    No one catches the mood of working-class and poor Glasgow like Mina does. She’s got it down pat.
    And the Paddy Meehan series is pretty good. If one wants to get a feeling for what it’s like to be a new young woman at a newspaper office and how tough it is to succeed, this series shows that. It’s also quite working class in feel and I got the gist of what it’s like to live in a community with long-term unemployment and ennui.
    And then there is the police detective, Alex Morrow, who is complicated. I did not
    like the first book in this series (gasp: the only Mina book I haven’t liked), but then
    the next three were quite good, gritty, but good.
    Mina is talented, a good writer, whose sense of place about Glasgow is excellent.
    I feel like I’ve been there in the public housing and elsewhere.
    She is definitely one of my top favorite writers. Once I pick up one of her
    books, I do not put it down until I’m finished — up all night, etc.
    She is also hilarious on TV, saw her on a talk show here.
    Now, I wonder how she and Fred Vargas would get along?

    • I’m with you that the first Alex Morrow wasn’t that great – Still Midnight, I think – but the weakest was the standalone, Sanctum. I loved the Paddy Meehan books almost as much as Garnethill – Paddy’s a great character! I’m currently reading The Red Road, in preparation for her latest – Blood Salt Water, which is another Alex Morrow. But I have to finish this one before starting the next one…If you like her, I’d recommend Catriona McPherson’s contemporary novels – The Day She Died, Come To Harm (it’s new), As She Left It – and there may be a fourth. She also writes the Dandy Gilver series, which is set post-WWI. They’re great too, v witty, but quite different. In her contemporary novels she’s great at writing about average, working-class women, with small lives, some with mental health issues – not unlike Maureen in Garnethill. But, when it comes to it, these women are really tough – they have to be. I’m going to review The Day She Died this weekend; I’ll let you know when I do.

    • I will look for some interviews: thanks! I’m on a bit of a reading roll recently, and I appreciate your thoughts on the other series, Kathy. Now I’m waiting for the copies I ordered online and from the library to arrive…

  8. On that, I’d agree. I read five pages of Sanctum and threw the book down in disgust and brought it back to the library, thankful I hadn’t bought it. A friend concurred on that one.
    I liked Paddy Meehan’s character, her family life, reading how they lived, even hearing about the sports teams and loyalties to them.

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