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.

The Chessmen by Peter May

chessmenThe Chessmen by Peter May
Quercus, February 2015
Book 3 of the Lewis Trilogy

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

This particular installment of the Lewis Trilogy focuses on former detective inspector Fin McLeod’s young adulthood, first at school in Lewis and then his first years at university in Glasgow. He was a roadie for a Celtic rock band until one of its members was lost in his small plane. The discovery of the small plane in an ingenious way starts the murder investigation in the present storyline, but the bulk of the book takes place in Fin’s past.

Looking back at the series as a whole, I prefer the first two installments to this one. The setting of the Isle of Lewis is still vivid in The Chessmen, but it didn’t feel as vivid action-wise compared to The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. While I learned much about the Lewis Chessmen, this particular book did not include a setpiece as stunning as the guga hunt in The Blackhouse. I think, character-wise, it’s also difficult to get into this book because the focus is on Fin’s young adulthood where he was, understandably, quite self-centered. And part of me is disappointed in the book because I was expecting more storyline about Fin’s relationship with Marsaili or his newly-discovered son: those threads are still open as the story concludes.  It’s still a very good series, but I was not as floored by The Chessmen as I was by the earlier books.



The Lewis Man by Peter May

lewis manThe Lewis Man by Peter May

Quercus, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Lewis Man, the second in the Lewis trilogy, is set in the westernmost of the Outer Hebrides. It’s a sort of police procedural. One of the main characters, Fin McLeod, returns to the Isle of Lewis and unofficially investigates the murder of a man found somewhat preserved in the peat bogs. It sounds like an Elly Griffiths novel, but the story doesn’t dwell too much on forensic archaelogy. The mystery of the deceased is an important element of the story, but the story of Fin and his old girlfriend’s Marsaili’s father, suffering from advanced dementia and remembering his childhood, are the main elements of the story. While the first book in the trilogy focused on Fin’s childhood, this installment focuses on the childhood of someone from his parents’ generation.

The murder investigation doesn’t feel like the center of the story because May spends so much time on the characters childhoods on the island. He touches on how religion has worked in the last fifty years on the island and beyond, and its shameful part of the care of orphans and children from broken homes. Both books in the trilogy so far have been harrowing because of the harsh setting, the murders, and the heartbreaking childhoods of their main characters.

One side note: this particular entry in the series does not make me want to visit the Isle of Lewis: lashing rain, fierce winds, and cold do not sound appealing to me. Maybe the third installment in the series makes a better case for visiting. Regardless of the harsh scenery, I enjoyed this story.

The Blackhouse by Peter May

blackhouseThe Blackhouse by Peter May
This edition: Quercus, August 2014
Originally published October 2012
Book 1 of the Lewis Trilogy

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I remember reading about the Lewis Trilogy several times in the past couple years, and I was intrigued by the setting and by the positive reviews. It was a very, very good read even though it felt a little bit light on the crime novel elements I was expecting.

The main character is Fin Macleod, a detective in Edinburgh who grew up on the Isle of Lewis who returns there when a murder much like one he investigated in Edinburgh takes place. A bully from his youth is found disemboweled in an abandoned building. While this is in a sense a police procedural, the book feels more like stories about growing up on the Isle of Lewis, including a vivid chunk of the book that takes place in the annual hunt of guga (young gannets) that goes back for generations.

There are some holes in the book that I assume are addressed in the other two books in the trilogy, specifically about different chunks of the characters’ backstories, but the focus on Fin’s childhood and the ritual of the guga hunt made up for those gaps. Fin is also a sympathetic character at the beginning of the story and because of his childhood, which makes all the focus on the past so good.

Other glowing reviews appear in Euro Crime, crimepieces, Reactions to Reading, and The Game’s Afoot.

Death of a Kingfisher by M.C. Beaton

          This is the first Hamish Macbeth mystery I’ve read, thoughit’s number 28 in the series.  One reason I selected is to fulfill the   Criminal Plots II Challenge  requirement for a book written under a pseudonym. Though I’m new to the series, I caught up on Macbeth’s work and love lives pretty quickly.  It seems to be a series with lots of recurring characters.
          The story takes place in northern Scotland where Macbeth isc ontent to be a village policeman though that does mean he cannot take the lead on the murder investigations in this book.  It’s a conflict, but it seems a very mild one compared to the murders that need to be solved.  The story revolves around a new, extremely popular tourist attraction, the Fairy Glen.  Very soon after the opening of the Fairy Glen, a bridge breaks due to sabotage, a kingfisher and its family is poisoned, and a string of murders occurs.  It’s a bit jarring to move from a story about a quiet set of villages with eccentric characters to the series of murders and its solution, and I’m not sure if that’s a hallmark of the series.
          This book will appeal to readers of Scottish village mysteries.  There’s a dash of humor as well as a bit about Hamish’s personal life for those invested in the character this far in the series.  While I prefer more of a focus on the investigation in a crime novel, this will appeal to readers who prefer setting and atmosphere over the plot.
Death of a Kingfisher by M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 22, 2012

Source:  Publisher via NetGalley