Look at me starting a series right at the beginning! This is the first in Denise Mina’s Paddy Mehan series set in early 80s Glasgow. Young Paddy Mehan is a copyboy, with ambitions to become a journalist on a Glasgow paper, full of youthful anxiety about her well-covered figure, equally in awe of, and disturbed by the older male journalists and their antics in the bar, a place they seem to spend most of their time.
There were so many fascinating layers to this story and not just connected to the horrific crime, the kidnap and murder of four-year-old Brian Wilcox and the swift arrest of two ten-year-old boys as a result. There is discourse on the divide between the Catholics and Protestants in the city, the unemployment rife at this time, the expectations of a family on the youngest daughter in terms of her behaviour and the disapproval of the wider community that Paddy Mehan managed to bring down on her young head at one point in this tale. And key to the tale is that of Police corruption.
The time is eloquently set, this is the era just before my teenage years and subsequently the one which shines brightest in my mind. I can’t remember the last time I bought a packet of refreshers, but when Paddy did so, I could feel and taste them popping on my tongue – Paddy’s clothes, her view of the world around her felt authentic to both her age and the time period. The sense of place also felt real, I could easily visualise the places described, despite never having visited Glasgow in my life, a testament to the skill of this author.
Alongside the main crime and Paddy’s investigative and journalistic skills, we also hear about an older Paddy Mehan, this man was a career criminal who was kept in solitary confinement for seven years for the murder of a young woman, a crime he insisted he had never committed. Our Paddy, the wannabe journalist had become fascinated with this man, her namesake and her ambition was to write, as journalists had in the 1960s, true investigative journalism probing and finding evidence that had never before seen the light of day. These excerpts from the 60s are fascinating and even more so when you reach the afterword and realise why the author chose to insert these into what on the face of it appears to be a completely unrelated crime to the central mystery of this book.
I’ve talked about everything but the crime to be solved, and that’s because this book made me think of all the periphery subjects whilst the mystery of what happened to the victim Brian Wilcox on the day he disappeared from his garden. This is a horrendous crime and although it is quite graphically described at the outset the author didn’t revisit the horrors of that day, rather the emphasis was on his family and the community following the arrest of the two young boys. During the course of this book our young Paddy finds evidence, she makes bold moves, but this is crime fiction and so she learns that what she is looking at may not be the real answer, perhaps it is a red-herring?
The number of themes, the protagonist who is unlike any other I have come across, the whole press room alongside the time period meant that I found this to be a truly exceptional read. I was devastated to find that I had mistakenly believed I had another book by this author within my TBR stack, sadly I don’t and I’m trying hard to resist buying every single one of her other books! I’m fairly sure that the first on the list will be the next two books in this trilogy as I want to see how Paddy grows and develops because this was a truly stunning opening shot.