Field of Blood by Denise Mina

Denise Mina returns to her Garnethill style with Field of Blood. Her main character, Patricia Meehan, known as Paddy, is a teenager working as a copyboy for a Glasgow newspaper. There is a second Paddy Meehan, a former spy for the Soviet Union, convicted of a crime he did not commit, only to be freed by the efforts of a journalist, Ludovic Kennedy. Both Kennedy and the older Paddy Meehan are real people, and much of the plot thread about the safecracker spy is a cautionary tale about cops and journalists.

When a three-year-old boy is brutally murdered, the jaded newsroom is stunned by the crime. Paddy is a Catholic kid from working class stock, living at home and engaged to Sean, another Catholic kid from a neighborhood much like Paddy’s. When Paddy learns that Sean’s cousin is one of the suspects in the murder, she confides in the only other woman available, Heather Allen. Heather betrays the confidence, reveals the boy’s identity in a syndicated story, and exposes Paddy to the wrath of her extended family.

Field of Blood is set in Glasgow in 1980-1. Denise Mina explores the sectarian rage of the Catholic-Protestant divide, using Paddy’s background to examine the social fabric of Scotland at the time. The bottom up view of society is not a pretty picture, a landscape of failed government housing, broken urban vistas, high unemployment and poor prospects. Paddy is determined to break the pattern of the life she feels predestined to live, her parents’ life. She wants to be a journalist and that drive propels much of the plot. Her impersonation of Heather has consequences beyond Paddy’s darkest fears, and leads her to confrontations she is not equipped to handle.

Some of the novel’s emotional impact is muted by the necessity to set up both stories. North American readers may not understand the references to the Paddy Meehan spy case or his subsequent imprisonment for murder. Yes, the words are on the page, but without the emotional pull of memory or experience, the injustice spelled out never intersects precisely with the primary story. This is a social novel with a crime hook and resolution. Field of Blood is the first of a series, always a tougher task for a writer, as the characters develop in Denise Mina’s meticulous way. Complex and beautifully written, the novel does the heavy lifting for the new series, one I am looking forward to reading.

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