MysteryPeople Q&A with Denise Mina

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Denise Mina’s latest Alex Morrow novel, intriguingly titled Blood, Salt, Water, is more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it.’ The detective inspector looks into what she initially suspects to be a mob killing, but the case proves both knottier in resolution and in morality when her investigation leads her to Helensburg, a small tourist town. Denise was kind enough to take enough to take some questions from us across the pond.

“It was a strange year, when I was writing this book. We had a referendum about whether Scotland wanted to leave the UK and become an independent country so EVERYTHING became about identity politics. It was like we all became teenagers again, the way teens are working out their identity obsessively and see everything as a statement about themselves. Even now, the Syrian War is discussed in terms of ‘what does this say about us’?”

MysteryPeople Scott:  Many of your novels are based on a true crime. Was this one?

Denise Mina: It was. Helensburgh is a beautiful town on the west coast of Scotland but there was a horrible house fire there and it turned out it was arson. The story that came out was that there had been a series of fires out there, caused by a gang of drugs dealers in the area. The town seemed to be waiting for permission to name the arsonist. Then there was a TV appeal featuring a reconstruction of the setting of the fire. A policeman played the part of the arsonist and the public were informed that CCTV was available. A lot of people called from the town, naming the same guy responsible, saying they recognised the guy in the film. I went to the court case when the guys were finally charged. It was bizarre.

MPS: You’ve usually written about Glasgow. Was there any challenge to moving much of the action to a smaller community?

DM: It’s refreshing actually. Technically, urban noir tends to feature people who are anonymous or have a way of escaping their history. Rural noir is all about history and connections within a community, often going back generations, so it felt very different.

MPS:  Identity plays an important part in the novel. What did you want to explore about it?

DM: It was a strange year, when I was writing this book. We had a referendum about whether Scotland wanted to leave the UK and become an independent country so EVERYTHING became about identity politics. It was like we all became teenagers again, the way teens are working out their identity obsessively and see everything as a statement about themselves. Even now, the Syrian War is discussed in terms of ‘what does this say about us’?

MPS:  How has Alex Morrow changed since you first started writing her?

DM: She’s much happier and more settled, I think. She’s happy at home and has accepted her discomfort with life, which is about as much as most of us can hope for.

“Technically, urban noir tends to feature people who are anonymous or have a way of escaping their history. Rural noir is all about history and connections within a community, often going back generations, so it felt very different.”

MPS:  As a writer, what makes her a heroine worth coming back to?

You know, I just love her. There’s so much about her we don’t know and shouldn’t know. She thinks and experiences a lot of the major themes in her life as metaphor. Also , she is in the stories so little, she creates a frame for the other characters. She’s a joy to write.

You can find copies of Blood, Salt, Water on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

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