In the final novel of Mina’s trilogy (Garnethill, Exile), Maureen O’Donnell finally comes face to face with the circumstances that have shaped her life, an abusive father who has returned to haunt her dreams, and the trial of Angus Farrell, Maureen’s post-nervous breakdown therapist who murdered two men - one of them Maureen’s married boyfriend, slaughtered in her apartment, the blood still staining the floor.
Even more disturbing to Maureen was Farrell’s systematic abuse of the helpless women in his care. It is these heinous crimes that have thrust Mina’s spunky protagonist into her role as a defender of innocent victims, modern-day Glasgow rife with opportunity to aid the downtrodden who fall prey to eager predators.
Part of the working class and borderline poor, Maureen has never enjoyed the luxury of security or contentment, her dysfunctional family controlled by an alcoholic mother who denies Maureen’s sexual abuse, siblings who gather their wandering father back into the bosom of the family, and an effort at recovery, a recent stint working in a battered woman’s shelter with best mate, Leslie.
Of late, Maureen has found herself too often on the wrong side of a hangover, her finances in disrepair and recurring nightmares of Michael O’Donnell waking her at night. Then there are the letters from Angus Farrell, incarcerated thanks to Maureen’s deviousness but preparing for a trial and hoping to trick her into testifying in his defense. No matter what, Maureen is determined never again to be a victim and to protect the only eyewitness to Farrell’s abuse, a woman so emotionally fragile that she would be destroyed by reliving the horrors she endured at Farrell’s hands.
As in the previous novels, Maureen is distracted by the plight of another - in this case an elderly woman, Ella McGee, a former prostitute who currently operates a stall in a local street market. Ella is suing her son, an entrepreneur, in small claims court, but before the court date, Ella is savagely beaten; the old woman dies in the hospital, her son by her side at the end. A distrustful Maureen applies herself to Ella’s demise, uncovering not only a vicious murder but a lucrative trafficking in Eastern European women, a burgeoning criminal subculture in Glasgow.
From the shocking first days after her boyfriend’s murder (Garnethill) and back to some semblance of normalcy working in the woman’s shelter (Exile), Mina brings her fascinating character full circle. Maureen is forced finally to face the demons that have sent her scurrying for cover in drunkenness and an inability to form lasting relationships, the train wreck of her life no longer tolerable to a young woman who has seen too much evil and yearns for another direction: “He’s already stolen your childhood. Don’t give him your adulthood as well.”
Maureen O’Donnell is a memorable figure in modern fiction, Mina’s prose as salty and vigorous as her heroine, Glasgow brought vividly to life as Maureen stalks the streets searching for answers, buffeted by the cold winds of change, a burning cigarette clutched in her hand. This is a world filled with desperation, sorrow, hope and forgiveness, human drama writ bold.