Brief synopsisGarnethill is the first book in the Garnethill trilogy. Maureen O’Donnell’s boyfriend is killed violently in her apartment. Despite her procuring an alibi and telling the police she didn’t commit the crime they don’t believe her because of her psychiatric history and tendency to lie. In order for Maureen to clear her name she sets out to find the actual murderer, which leads her to a decades-old scandal that took place at one of the facilities she was admitted to.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story shortA quick note before I begin: many of the novel’s themes center around sexual assault, mental illness, and domestic violence, which may be triggering to survivors. This review avoids specific details.

At 400 pages Garnethill seemed intimidating but it was a good read that I couldn’t put down. In fact, I had my nose buried in it while waiting backstage at a dance performance this past weekend (I finished about 10 minutes before my group went on stage).

Some readers found the pacing slow, but I thought it was done well. The novel is quick to start, something that I love (I’m not a fan of a long set-up), and the chapters after the murder are also fast and reflect Maureen’s agitation and frustration. There are several places in the book where the plot slows down and are good places for the reader to catch her breath. At the same time, Mina uses them for character development and you learn more about Maureen’s family and their troubled history. The ending is a little rushed, but satisfying, and gives the reader the option to stop there or continue with the trilogy Enough is resolved in Garnethill that you don’t have to keep reading.

While at times I was frustrated with Maureen (she gets involved when she shouldn’t and vice-versa), overall I really enjoyed her character. She is vulnerable because of her rocky past, yet has the strength to believe in herself even when others, including her family, don’t, which made it easy for me to empathize with her.

Given her childhood trauma I was surprised by how serious she was about finding the killer herself. Maureen is still reeling from events that happened to her in her youth and as a result of that tends to blame herself before others. Despite the memories that come flooding back after her boyfriend’s death, Maureen figures out details of the murder that the police have yet to work out, and makes the initial connection to a similar murder that occurred years before at a psychiatric facility where she was a patient. Several times she endangers herself both knowingly and unknowingly, which is infuriating but fits with her personality.

Plot and characters aside, Garnethill features some memorable images. Here are two I found in my messy notes:

  • “In the deep valley below, the high-rise blocks stood like giants paddling in a shallow sea of bungalows” (128).
  • “Douglas had a smell about him, the smell of many women past. At first she didn’t notice particularly, but gradually she began to see the unfocused look in his eyes when he spoke about his feelings for her, like an invisible shutter coming down. Latterly, when they had sex, she longed for the ghosts of the other women to come and keep her company because Douglas was so far away” (139).

I’m going to continue with the Garnethill trilogy after my current reading challenge ends. I’ll likely end up borrowing the books instead of buying them since I don’t know how well they’d hold up to multiple reads.

Have you read the three novels in the Garnethill series, or any other book by Denise Mina? What did you think?