Denise Mina, the award-winning Scottish crime writer, breaks new territory with her latest “tartan noir” mystery standalone, “Conviction.” It’s a brilliantly plotted, deeply complex psychological thriller, and also an intelligent black comedy with emotional depth and an uplifting outlook. The story is gritty at times – it includes some violence and profanity – but the gutsy heroine at its center grabs the reader’s heart as she and her sidekick crime-solver grapple with clues and villains, seeking justice and redemption as the tension mounts.
Anna McDonald lives in Glasgow. She’s a devoted mum to her two little girls, and a trophy wife to her sometimes-charming, too-often self-involved lawyer husband, Hamish. Despite therapy sessions, their marriage is on the rocks; she calms herself by reading books and listening to true crime podcasts.
On the fateful morning during which her life irrevocably changes, Anna begins her day listening to a podcast called “Death and the Dana,” which discusses an unsolved murder involving a haunted luxury yacht that sunk off the coast of France. Its passengers included a wealthy father, his two children, and a wrongly convicted chef. When Anna hears that the father’s name is Leon Parker, she’s dumbstruck. He was a friend from her hidden past – the life she ran away from almost a decade ago. Back then, Anna was Sophie Bukaran, a vulnerable teenager who faced some dark challenges. (Don’t worry, I haven’t given too much away – Mina reveals this on the first page of the book!)
As Anna recalls her past, her best friend Estelle arrives on her doorstep, ostensibly for their yoga class – only for Hamish to join her, suitcase in hand. He and Estelle admit to having an affair and whisk Anna’s daughters away. Already facing an emotional whirlwind, Anna is now completely paralyzed with grief. Desperate for distraction, she goes back to listening to more of “Death and the Dana.”
Later, a knock on her door reveals Fin Cohen, Estelle’s handsome celebrity ex-rocker husband, who’s equally distraught by his abandonment. Anna becomes certain she knows who’s connected to the yacht murders. Impulsively, she grabs the stack of cash Hamish left her and takes off with Fin.
What follows is a character-driven, thrill-a-minute journey through famous European locales. Anna and Fin become captivated by “Death and the Dana” and pursue a solution to its mystery by harnessing the power of social media. They also start another podcast of their own. It’s exhilarating to watch their self-esteem and friendship grow while they dodge dangerous assassins from her past. The incredibly connected modern world of social media (and its negative and positive effects) becomes an impressive character in its own right.
Mina is a master storyteller: “Conviction” reels you in, daring you to keep up with the clues and surprises that its entwined mysteries share. The book is told in Anna’s sardonic, endearing voice, along with completely riveting interludes from episodes of “Death and the Dana.” The characters all have unique personalities, and Mina’s flair for dialogue and amusing observance of human nature enables her to execute each scene perfectly. (It’s no surprise to learn that Mina is also a playwright, as she uncannily imbues each character with true-to-life behavior, motives, and dynamism.)
“Conviction” is a madcap cliffhanger that, despite its dark edges, shines with heart, humor, and healing. Though Anna is no saint, she’s endured tragedy (think #MeToo) – and, at her core, she is seeking peace. Meeting Mina’s brave new heroine during this complicated, celebrity-obsessed, social media-addicted time is actually a profound relief. The moments of light and wisdom in Anna’s story are breathtaking and inspire hope. This honest, hilarious whodunit is really a soul-changing drama. What a gift!