Saturday, June 15, 2019


CONVICTION by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

Anyone who has read any of Denise Mina's books over the past 20 years knows that she's a highly talented crime writer. Her resume is packed with awards and accolades, and whether it's one her one of her three acclaimed series (Garnethill, Paddy Meehan, Alex Morrow) or inventive standalones like SANCTUM and THE LONG DROP, there's evidence aplenty that Mina is crime writing royalty.

After celebrating the twentieth anniversary last year of her striking debut GARNETHILL, Mina now underlines her versatile talents with this zesty new tale imbued with up-to-the-minute issues.

The main character in CONVICTION is Glasgow wife and mother Anna McDonald, who lives a fairly domestic existence with her lawyer husband Hamish and two young daughters. The comfort and safe banality masks Anna's past and very public trauma she suffered years before.

Now living under a new identity, Anna’s lukewarm reality is upturned in a single day when Hamish leaves her for her best friend, and she learns from a true crime podcast that an old acquaintance is dead. Even worse, a powerful woman who made Anna’s life hell could be involved in some way.

Untethered and desperate for a distraction, Anna becomes obsessed with the true crime podcast, and starts picking at the case of a luxury yacht that sank in the Mediterranean, finding an unlikely ally in the form of the anorexic ex of her former best friend. Pandora's Box opened, together they follow a trail from the Scottish Highlands to continental Europe, hunting for some sort of truth while visiting the hideaways of the rich and the wretched and trying to stay ahead of some very dangerous people.

There are so many things to love about CONVICTION. First and foremost for me, there's a real verve and sense of energy to Mina's storytelling, which blends gut-punch moments with great characterisation, a clever structure, and some nice touches of black humour. This fair hurtles along, and is one of those smile-inducing books even as its full of dark deeds.

CONVICTION is a whirlwind, in the finest way. Recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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