They call it Tartan Noir, the Scots form of noir crime writing. And Glasgow crime writer Denise Mina is one of its major practitioners. Mina is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels: the three installments of the “Garnethill” trilogy featuring Maureen O’Donnell as an unwilling sleuth; three novels featuring Paddy Meehan, a journalist in 1980s and 1990s Glasgow; the stand-alone crime novel, Sanctum; the 2010 graphic novel, A Sickness in the Family; and contributions to the John Constantine, Hellblazer series.
Increasingly, however, Mina has become identified with her series of novels featuring Glasgow DI Alex Morrow: Still Midnight, The End of the Wasp Season, Gods and Beasts, and The Red Road. Writing in the New York Times Book Review of the last-named novel, released in the U.S. in 2014, Marilyn Stasio noted: “If anyone can make you root for the murderer, it’s Denise Mina, whose defiantly unsentimental novels are less concerned with personal guilt than with the social evils that create criminals and the predators who nurture them. . . [The Red Road is] as fierce a story as any Mina has written.” Publishers Weekly also had high praise for this installment, calling it “perhaps her finest yet, a brilliantly crafted tale of corruption, ruined lives, and the far-reaching ripple effects of crime.”
Mina hit the ground running, winning the John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel in 1998 for Garnethill, the first of a trilogy of the same name. She was dubbed the “Crown Princess of Crime” by author Val McDermid, who went on to note, “”If you don’t love Denise Mina, you don’t love crime fiction.” Mina has also earned praise from fellow Scots writer Ian Rankin, who called her “one of the most exciting writers to have emerged in Britain for years.” She has since been a finalist for the Edgar and the recipient of the 2012 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year award (for The End of the Wasp Season), beating out such formidable competition as John Connolly.
Denise, it is a joy to finally have you at Scene of the Crime. I love the way you are able to infuse the thriller with depth and real understanding of human nature. Your characters have, as the wine wallahs say, legs. They last; they stick with you.
I live in Glasgow. I moved here when I was nineteen. My extended family lived here but my immediate family moved around a lot (21 times in 18 years). I only came back because I ran out of money in Galway in Ireland and came to get the cash to go back to London. I fell in love with Glasgow then. The people are so warm and the architecture is Victorian Gothic, it’s beautiful. No one wanted to live here then and it was possible to rent Victorian rooms for next to nothing.
Best off all the mountains can be seen from the city centre.
What things about Glasgow make it unique and a good physical
setting in your books?
It’s transferable in a day, actually a small geographical area. The people all talk to each other, almost manically. Standing at a bus stop together creates a sort of civil law obligation to tell your life story. Also the people are very funny.
The Garnethill series was a love letter to Glagow, the weather, the amazing light here. I think it’s less of a character in my later books.
How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt
attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background
inspiration for you?
Yeah. I always try to find the house that the characters would live in before I begin because it gives you so much of a sense of how they live, do they drive to the shops? What happens if they need milk or a gun? I do all the walks in the books as well, just because sometimes you’ll see things you didn’t expect: road works or a collapsed drunk or a memorial garden or something.
How do your various protagonists interact with their surroundings?
In Garnethill Maureen is very much part of the city. In the Alex Morrow books she is trying to get away from the setting, trying to detach herself but still very much coming from the underbelly of the city.
You have a large fan base in the States. Has there been much local reaction to your works?
Glaswegians really appreciate them, I think. It’s hard because my books are addressed to working class Galswegians and readings and emails tend to be from teachers or other people who object to swearing and so on. I did a dismaying reading here once to an audience who didn’t really get it and then afterward went into a really shitty cafe where the waitress recognised me, said she’d read my books when she was in psychiatric hospital and it had changed her life. The Paddy Meehan series is set in the eighties and nineties and depicts the city then. That’s been more controversial because everyone remembers the city differently. But I’m the one who’s right.
Reviews are almost universally good though.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
Mostly spelling: let this be a lesson to the young. You can’t skip school for the last two years and leave at sixteen without it affecting your spelling. And spell check can’t catch place names. I’ve misspelled most areas in Glasgow.
Of the Glasgow novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place?
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers
influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
Alistair Gray had a huge impact. No one wrote seriously about Glasgow but he did. Glasgow was a slightly ashamed place back then but he wrote about it with defiant pride and said that Glaswegians couldn’t imagine another life because we never saw ourselves depicted. It made me want to depict the city. And so I did.
Thanks for much for speaking about Glasgow and your works, Denise.
For more information on Denise Mina, visit her homepage.