Book Festival: Denise Mina

Denise Mina discussed her new novel The Red Road at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Review by Heather McDaid


Denise Mina isn’t one to shy away from darker territory, as her latest novel The Red Road reaffirms. The culprit behind a double murder gives up easily, but she’s 14 year old prostitute Rose, with one of those killed being a pimp who hired her out under the pretence of love and future riches.

She talks of ’50s clichés where the man would run to his girlfriend and ask her to hide the gun and – without question – she would. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if she just shot him instead?” laughs Denise.

This is the fourth outing for detective Alex Morrow, a “grumpy cow with twins”, though Mina’s over halfway through writing the fifth. Morrow is struggling with the power of recent promotion and faces the question of her career: is justice always the right thing to do? It’s these kind of moral questions Mina wants her characters to face, and readers to ponder.

The dark nature of Rose’s circumstance lends to discussions of troubles that have gone on for decades, saying that while Rose is 14, looks 16 and feels 12, she’s told “no one will believe her, she’s too young. Normal sexuality isn’t predatory,” so few will understand. She hopes people realise that while it’s horrible, it’s not just fiction, but goes on daily.

Despite the core topic naturally provoking an unsettling tone, it does lighten up. Her new fur coat is given a lot of attention (it is, admittedly, pretty gorgeous). The flats referred to were due to be destroyed as part of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, to which she notes, “I think we just like watching things blow up!”

A moment that draws a real ‘ooh’ from the audience is her admission that she began a PhD in mental illness in female offenders – it is mightily impressive. She felt the issue in literary women was remedied with getting a better boyfriend or killing yourself – she wanted characters in her work, like Maureen O’Donnell, that had been in a mental hospital but possessed rational thought, to be realistic.

Although she never finished her degree, she’s used most of it through her crime books, but it’s her ‘low art’ alternatives that she said she’d choose if she had to forego detectives. Her work in graphic novels is great, and she feels that because people read it with their guard down, you can talk about anything. She also knows if someone doesn’t like it they’ll simply stop.

With books, people feel compelled to finish even the heftiest tomes regardless of enjoyment. A man approached her on the street once, telling her he was a big fan of her books but he left her latest on the bus because he hated it. “I thought, ‘yes!'” she grins. “That’s how reading should work!”

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