Sunday, June 04, 2006

As the dark energy which made Ian Rankin such a deserved star seems to have faded, the idea of “tartan noir” (a term coined to celebrate Scottish crime stories) is still thriving – thanks largely to a superbly talented writer named Denise Mina. She started with an intense trilogy set in the bleak Garnethill section of her native Glasgow, and then moved a bit upscale with Deception, where an unreliable husband seems to be looking through his psychiatrist wife’s papers in search of anything that might clear her of a murder charge but is actually damaging her case.
Field of Blood is about another kind of betrayal (the title is a Biblical reference to a piece of land purchased by Judas with his reward money). Patricia Meehan, called Paddy in reverence to an earlier Meehan wrongly imprisoned for murder, lands a job as a glorified gofer on the Glasgow Daily News, and very soon is faced with a huge moral dilemma. A three-year-old boy has been abducted from a department store and later killed; a surveillance video shows that his kidnappers were two boys, possibly 10- or 11-years-old. Paddy immediately recognizes one of the boys as Callum, the cousin of her boyfriend, Sean. It’s the kind of story that a young reporter like Paddy could build a career on – but when she reveals the boy’s identity to her boss it also threatens to destroy two families. Paddy will do almost anything to prove she’s up to the job of reporter (a dreary night spent in the “calls car,” investigating police crime calls with a profanely sexist male journalist, is looked on by her as a tremendous career breakthrough), so she adopts the persona of a more glamorous intern named Heather Allen to dig into Callum’s story and clear his name as the younger boy’s killer. The real Heather winds up murdered, and Paddy herself is in dire danger as she tries to repair all the damage.
Paddy is a very appealing figure, obsessed by her weight (a scene after a family funeral where she passes up a tray of delicious rolls filled with “salt butter and sweet gammon” only to gorge on dessert is both hilarious and heartbreaking) and so obviously suited for journalism that the report that this is the start of a series is particularly good news. Spread the word -- tartan noir lives.