The wonderfully talented Denise Mina captures the spirit of young Scotland in her feisty protagonist, Maureen O’Donnell. After a stay in a mental ward for a nervous breakdown, Maureen is still extremely vulnerable, an ill-advised love affair with a married therapist from the hospital hardly beneficial to her recovery.
Gradually the fog has cleared, and Maureen is ready to move on, dump the married lover and return to her job. Unfortunately, her timing is off: after a nasty bender, she awakens one morning to find her man, Douglas, tied to a chair in her flat, his throat slit so violently that he is nearly decapitated.
Gathering her wits, Maureen calls the police only to find herself and her drug dealer brother, Liam, the focus of the investigation. Anxious to charge the murderer, it is clear that the police will choose the most expedient resolution; it is with much difficulty that Maureen and Liam extricate themselves for the interrogation rooms where they have been confined.
In lockstep, the siblings form a united front, especially important since the rest of the severely dysfunction family is in the throes of denial about the cause of Maureen’s breakdown and easily convinced that she could have killed Douglas. Clearly Maureen is an easy target - unstable, self-doubting, suggestible and vulnerable - but everyone underestimates her will to survive the ordeal and find Doug’s murderer.
With the aid of her best mate, Leslie, an abused-women’s advocate, Maureen sets out on a parallel investigation that takes her into dangerous territory, back to the hospital environment and the rumors of a terrible history that has been covered up. Returning to the scene of her hospitalization, Maureen is soon reminded of the extreme vulnerability of the women in such institutions, some so traumatized that they can barely function outside of a limited daily routine.
It is one of these victims, Siobhan, who inspires the two young women to pursue a perilous plan that will put all of them in immediate danger. Ultimately it is Maureen, fighting an emotional war on two fronts, who rises to the occasion and extracts a thoughtful revenge. Unfortunately, menace dogs her every move as she and Leslie race through the streets on Leslie’s motorbike, women on a mission.
Part of Maureen’s reclamation of herself and her past is in the confrontation with her alcoholic mother, a woman who will sacrifice her daughter’s well-being in service to her own ends, holding Maureen’s sisters hostage in an evil plan to excise the past and absolve herself of blame. But just as she confronts a heinous killer, so does this saucy heroine face up to her mother’s distortions of the truth.
Maureen stands up for those too long ignored in an overburdened mental health system, a female protagonist burdened with the taint of mental illness. Two more novels in Mina’s trilogy promise more of the same from an extraordinary protagonist, a chain-smoking, rough-talking survivor, savvy and vulnerable, noble and impulsive, a Scottish Everywoman, a new face in a tired, cynical world.