MysteryPeople Q&A with Denise Mina

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Our Pick Of The Month, Denise Mina’s The Long Drop, looks at the famous Scottish trial of Peter Manuel, a small time thief charged with the murders of three women. We also flash back to years earlier with a pub crawl for the ages, as Manuel takes William Watt, the husband and father of two of the victims, who was also a suspect, out on the town. The book is a dark look at class, media, and crime. We caught up with Denise to talk about those subjects and the period the story takes in.

MysteryPeople Scott: You often use true crime and scandal as a basis for your stories, changing names and details, but here you stuck close to story with part of the fiction taking place in the shadows of the events. What was it it about this murder and trial that made you stick closer to the history with the many of the real events and names?

Denise Mina: I had to stick close to the real story because it simply wasn’t credible as fiction. Usually I take a premise or an interesting idea but this story was so odd I felt it needed told the way it happened. OJ and Polanski set out to ‘turn detective’ and solve the murders they were involved with, so that was transferable, but the rest it was particular to that story. Also everyone in it was dead and they didn’t have kids to upset so I figured it would be okay.

MPS: This was also the first time you went back into a time you went back to a time you didn’t experience yourself. How did you tackle that challenge?

DM: I wrote it as a play originally and it was produced in Glasgow so I was pretty steeped in it even before I began the researched the book. This period is when Glasgow’s reputation was made, Like Detroit in the 1960s and it felt very familiar. I got too into it actually. I could feel that old city more than the pretty, latte-and-sushi hipster place Glasgow of now.

MPS: What did the novel allow you to do that writing it as a play didn’t?

DM: The novel let me tell the story as an internal voice so I could go into the actor’s minds and see how it looked from their POV. Most of the facts presented to the court were obvious lies, everyone came forward because they were trying to do the right thing, even life long criminals, the cops all told the truth because they were cops etc. In serial killer stories what is often most interesting is the way people behave around them, rather than what they do.

MPS: I read in reviews that Watts is less sympathetic in the book than he was in the play. Did you come to a different understanding of him between projects?

DM: In the original play Watt was a nicer guy who has innocently stumbled into a freaky situation. A lot of older people came to see it and they cornered me at the end and told me that I had told it wrong. The official story was that Watt, a prominent businessman, was innocent. That was the finding of the trial. But the old dears said it was more complicated than that. The story in the city was that Watt took the guard dog away from the house on the night of the murders. It was much better.

MPS: Class plays an important part important part of the novel and many of your others. What makes that an interesting theme for you to explore?

DM: Part of the beauty of crime novels is that they can span society. Class is a natural source of conflict but largely unspoken. Class of origin, adoptive social class, aspiration, these are all major sources of social identity. Honestly, I bang on about it so much, I’m starting to feel like a lonely Marxist professor who should have retired years ago.

MPS: Do you think these murders would be just as shocking and be the media sensation today?

DM: Definitely. There is something uniquely creepy about home invasions and eating in a house where you’ve just killed people is revolting, somehow. Of course, the added element as in Bundy, was the fact that Manuel was attractive and represented himself. He was a pretty clever little psychopath.

You can find copies of The Long Drop on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE LONG DROP by Denise Mina

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780316380577Denise Mina has often used true crime and scandal for the basis of her novels. Usually she tears off the headline and runs with it, going further with the ideas and situations it suggests. With The Long Drop, she takes one of Glasgow’s most notorious murder cases, keeping the names of those involved, cutting closer to the bone and going deep instead of far. The result is her finest book to date.

in 1956, three women, Marion Watt, her daughter Viviene, and family friend Margret Brown were found in bed with a bullet in each head. Marion’s husband, William Watt, a man with a known drinking problem was the first chief suspect. Mina creates a fictional account of Watt meeting Peter Manuel, a petty burglar who was eventually put on trial for the murders, in a club arranged by Watt’s lawyer. Manuel agrees to tell him everything about the night of the killings if they ditch the lawyer. The story proceeds to follow their dark pub crawl, interweaving it with Manuel’s trail two years later.

Mina tells the interlocking stories contrasting in tone, yet reflecting off one another for deeper thought and meaning.The night between Watt and Manuel has the feel of a subdued thriller filled with quiet Watt’s quiet desperation as he is at the whims of a quiet mad man. First the novel is about finding the truth, then the nature of truth itself is put to the question. The last part of that question is examined in the sensational trial that captured O.J. level interest in Scotland with Manuel defending himself and Watt testifying on a stretcher. This part starts at a great distance, capturing place and period more by attitude of the time than tossing historical detail at the reader. Mina slowly becomes more intimate, yet cold as we get to know those involved with the case, creating a feel much like Capote’s In Cold Blood especially near the end. For Americans unfamiliar with the case, only look into it after you’ve read the book, since it creates some unintended suspense for us.

Just a little over two hundred pages, the novel is concentrated Denise Mina. Class, a subject she often explores, is examined through Watt’s and Manuel’s interactions. It becomes especially apparent when when Watt mocks in his mind a club that Manuel would find posh even though it is below his tastes. It’s an odd feeling of superiority displayed by a man at the mercy of the other. Forms of guilt and sin are measured. Mina creates a mystery out of Watt’s goal for information. Through Manuel is he trying to find justice for his wife and daughter, simple exoneration, or a deeper absolution? There appears to be enough guilt to go around.

The Long Drop is a well cut, cold hard diamond of a novel, showing off the many facets of its thematics. While much is revealed, we are properly left with more haunting questions than when we started. Denise Mina respects her readers and their emotional intelligence in her acknowledgment that no murder, solved or unsolved, punished or unpunished, ever has closure.

The Long Drop comes out May 23rd – pre-order now! 

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.

Read More »

Three Picks for December

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780316380546Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

A murder victim’s cell phone leads Glasgow DI Alex Morrow to a seaside town that has more darkness and secrets than one would imagine. Denise Mina is one of the best crime fiction writers to come out of Scotland. You can find copies of Blood, Salt, Water on our shelves and via bookpeople.com


9781440592058A Better Goodbye by John Schulian

This book follows the relationship of a massage parlor worker and the tarnished-knight ex-boxer hired to work security for the place. A evocative and human modern LA hard boiled. You can find copies of A Better Goodbye on our shelves and via bookpeople.com


9780986259418A Fine Dark Line by Joe Lansdale

I am thrilled that one of my all time favorite Lansdale books is back in print. Set in the late Fifties, a young boy discovers a collection of old love letters behind his family’s drive in that unlock the fist clues to a twenty year old murder mystery. One of the author’s most personal novels.You can find copies of A Fine Dark Line on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Women’s History Month: Recommendations of Women (and Men) in Crime Fiction, From Women in Crime Fiction

-Post by Molly

March is Women’s History Month, so at the beginning of the month, I reached out to many of my favorite female authors writing in crime fiction today for some thoughts and recommendations. Jamie Mason, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Megan Abbott, and Lori Rader-Day all sent replies along, posted earlier this month (Mason’s response posted separately), and now we bring you some of their amazing recommendations. Not all the authors listed below are currently in print (although some soon return to print), and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the best crime writers today (a virtually impossible task). I’ve added quite a few of the following to my “to read” list. Enjoy!


monday's lieJamie Mason Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Josephine Tey
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Agatha Christie

Second Wave Authors:

  • Ruth Rendell
  • PD James
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Mary Higgins Clark
  • Sue Grafton
  • Kathy Reichs

Contemporary Authors:

  • Gillian Flynn
  • Tana French
  • Laura Lippman
  • Megan Abbott
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Lisa Lutz
  • Mo Hayder
  • Sara Paretsky

phantom instinct

Meg Gardiner Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Shelley (as innovator of suspense fiction)
  • Patricia Highsmith

the unquiet deadAusma Zehanat Khan Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Ngaio Marsh
  • Dorothy L. Sayers (and the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Wimsey/Vane series)

Contemporary Authors:

  • Deborah Crombie
  • Imogen Robertson
  • Charles Finch
  • Charles Todd
  • Alan Bradley
  • Louise Penny
  • Susan Hill
  • Ariana Franklin
  • Anna Dean
  • Martha Grimes
  • Morag Joss
  • C. S. Harris
  • Stephanie Barron
  • Laurie R. King
  • Laura Joh Rowland
  • Elizabeth George
  • Peter May (in particular, The Blackhouse)
  • the late, great Reginald Hill

feverMegan Abbott Recommends…

The following books are soon to appear in the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by Sarah Weinman

  • Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place
  • Vera Caspary’s Laura
  • Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall
  • Margaret Millar’s Beast In View

the black hourLori Rader-Day Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Lois Duncan
  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Higgins Clark

Contemporary Authors:

  • Tana French
  • Catriona McPherson
  • Denise Mina
  • Clare O’Donohue
  • Sara Gran
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Alan Bradley
  • James Ziskin

International Crime Fiction: LAIDLAW, by William McIlvanney

Post by Molly
This month in international crime fiction, we travel to the rain-soaked streets of Edinburgh in the 1970s. Europa Editions, through their World Noir imprint, has brought Laidlaw, the first of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw Investigations across the water for their debut on American soil. McIlvanney is considered the father of “Tartan Noir,” which, admittedly, describes a wide variety of Scottish detective novelists whose main commonality seems to be their country of origin rather than any unified style. Still, before McIlvanney began writing his trilogy of novels starring DI Laidlaw and DC Harkness in the mid-1970s, crime fiction was virtually nonexistent in the highlands or the lowlands, and most detective novelists in Scotland today, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Denise Mina, have been strongly influenced by these early works.

In McIlvanney’s first novel, simply titled Laidlaw, a young woman has been brutally murdered. DI Laidlaw, a detective of unusual methods and dour visage, must go in search of a killer. To complicate matters, the girl’s father is also searching for his daughter’s murderer. If Detective Laidlaw finds him first, he has the hope of a fair trial and a life in prison. If the girl’s father finds him first, his brief and tortured existence will come to a sudden end.  To complicate the matter, the father has strong connections to the local mafia, some of whom take a moral stand against sex crimes despite numerous other criminal activities and are willing to give as much aid as necessary to make the father’s revenge complete.

McIlvanney has written in many genres and mediums during his lifetime, including poetry and screenwriting. He has an innate understanding of how to use the framework of a murder to draw attention to wider divisions and dysfunctions in society. Laidlaw uses each point in the narrative as a chance to reflect on the wider implications, and McIlvanney deliberately structures his narrative to allow for these moments of reflection. Laidlaw, despite a length of around 250 pages, manages to delve into homophobia, class conflict, drug addiction, religious divisions, and terrible weather, and each pause for thought is more beautifully written than the last. In particular, McIlvanney creates DI Laidlaw – intuitive, working class, and voice of humanistic tolerance – and then writes DC Harkness – college educated, young and handsome, bigoted and superior – as the perfect foil. Their debates contain many of the divisions of Scottish society that still exist today.

Much of what comes to mind when we think about Scotland – rain, lack of humor, depressed introspection – lend themselves particularly well to the noir genre. While reading Laidlaw, I got the sense that noir coming to Scotland was noir coming home. Europa Editions, as they continue to release McIlvanney’s novels, do a great service to the American reading public, and I, personally, cannot wait to read the next one.

If you liked this, check out:

anything by Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Val McDermid, or Christopher Brookmyre


Laidlaw, by William McIlvanney, is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Molly blogs on international crime fiction every third Thursday of the month. Her last post took a look at Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy. Look for her next post on September 19.

MysteryPeople Review: THE RED ROAD

One the best things about crime fiction is its potential for social awareness. Ever since Dashiell Hammett wrote Red Harvest, the detective novel has been able to delve into issues of the here and now. Few carry on that tradition finer than Scottish author Denise Mina, evidence of which can be seen in her latest, The Red Road.

The book starts in 1997, the night of Princess Diana’s death. Rose, a teen prostitute in the rough Red Road projects, kills two men. While the victims were of questionable character, the killings weren’t in self defense. Her attorney takes an interest in her. He gets her the lowest sentence he can, and later, he brings her into his family after her release. We then go forward into near present-day with Detective Inspector Morrow acting as a witness for the prosecution of a gun dealer. Trouble arises when the defendant’s prints are found at the scene of a murder that took place during his incarceration. It is all ties to Rose and that night in 1997.

Like many other characters in Mina’s Morrow series, Rose serves as much as a main character as her inspector. She embodies the debate of nature versus nurture. Through the time juxtaposition, Mina creates her as two different characters, tied by a common history, where this newer Rose was given hope. Much of the book’s tension comes from us wondering if the old Rose will resurface.

Morrow has more of a presence than she did in Mina’s previous Gods & Beasts. We learn that her brother is a known gangster, and that her taking on the investigation puts her reputation on the line. We also get a glimpse of her as a mother. It’s interesting to watch her navigate and use the relationships in her work and life. When she meets up with Rose, it’s electric.

The Red Road is about a lot of meetings and clashes: past and present, psychology and sociology, duty and justice. Mina has created a moral mystery as much as a murder mystery, with few getting off the hook.

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Copies of The Red Road are currently available on our shelves at BookPeople and via our website, bookpeople.com.