Maureen O’Donnell is a survivor of abuse by her father and a psychiatric hospital. She now works in a theatre ticket booth, is mistress to Douglas, a therapist, and is in perpetual conflict with her alcoholic mother and her doubting sisters. After a drunken night out she wakes to discover Douglas tied to a chair, his throat cut. The police, her family, Douglas’ family and the media all have Maureen pegged as his killer. Sensing that the only way the truth will be discovered is through her own investigation, she turns to her few friends who believe in her and starts to nose around. She soon discovers a scandal, a conspiracy of silence, and a whole heap of trouble.
I had mixed feelings about Garnethill. Mina is clearly a skilled writer and the story is well plotted, with some nice twists and tension points, and is particularly strong on characterization. It also has a nice sense of place and contextualisation with respect to incest, abuse, family feuds, friendship and mental health issues. The full complexity of Maureen as a character shines through. My problem was with Maureen, however. If there is a difficult path, she seems to take it. The story is set up so that you’re meant to feel sympathy and empathy for her in opposition to the characters that oppose her, in particular her mother and Joe McEwan, the policeman in charge of the investigation into Douglas’ death. My problem was that I often identified with McEwan more than Maureen, especially as the book progressed. In her obsession to exact a retributive justice, she actively misleads the police and brings people into real danger and harm, including herself. And the end is quite callous in many ways as she rejects someone she’s being trying to protect. It might be realistic in many ways, but I found it a little frustrating and tiring. Overall then, a book that has a lot of pluses, but which didn’t resonate with me personally as much as I hoped it might.