Denise Mina and “Tartan Noir”

14 Apr

I have just finished, and greatly enjoyed, Denise Mina The Last Breath (Bantam 2007), set in Glasgow in 1990.

Paddy Meehan has it all: flash car, flat, job as Scotland’s leading columnist, and giant packet of biscuits all to herself, but the groggy bliss of a Saturday night in front of the TV is shattered when the police knock politely on her door, smiling sadly when she answers it. Someone close to her has died, but she’s staggered when they tell her who it is.

Terry Patterson has been found in a ditch, stripped naked and executed with a shot through his temple. He was her first ever lover and her hero, the sort of journalist she always aspired to be.

Paddy chucked him months ago but she’s down on his passport as his next of kin. Not only that but he has left everything to her in his will, a house in Ayrshire, boxes of notes, a folder.

Beginning the investigation into his murder she realises all too late that if the secret he was about to expose is worth killing for then she – and the people closest to her – are in terrible danger.

According to Wikipedia, Mina is a practitioner of Tartan Noir, and being rather fond both of Noir and Scotland, I am a natural for it.

Tartan Noir draws on the traditions of Scottish literature, being strongly influenced by James Hogg‘s Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. These works dwell on the duality of the soul; the nature of good and evil; issues of redemption, salvation and damnation amongst others. “Caledonian antisyzygy” – a Scottish phenomenon of the duality of a single entity – is a key driving force in Scottish literature, but appears especially prominently in the Tartan Noir genre.

Influences from outside Scotland most noticeably include the hardboiled genre, particularly Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. This can be most clearly seen in the work of Allan Guthrie, although the work of Ian Rankin also bears hardboiled’s imprints. More recent influences include the work of James Ellroy, whose focus on police and societal corruption has proven especially resonant with Ian Rankin. Ed McBain‘s use of the police procedural genre has also been influential.

Ian Rankin I really like.

Checking Denise Mina led me to an excellent set of audio and transcripts from the Edinburgh Book Festival. The following do not open in new windows.

Margaret Atwood 10 Oct 2006
Martin Amis 4 Oct 2006
Billy Collins 28 Aug 2006
Michael Foreman and Michael Morpurgo 27 Aug 2006
Roddy Doyle 27 Aug 2006
Gillian Baverstock 26 Aug 2006
Paul Muldoon 26 Aug 2006
Seamus Heaney 25 Aug 2006
Geraldine McCaughrean & Philip Reeve 22 Aug 2006
The Motivated School with Alan McLean 21 August 2006
Roger McGough (adult event) 19 Aug 2006
Roger McGough (children’s event) 18 Aug 2006
Toxic Childhood with Sue Palmer 18 August 2006
Ian Rankin & Denise Mina 17 Aug 2006
Tanglewreck with Jeanette Winterson 17 Aug 2006
Fostering Creativity with Ian Smith 17 August 2006
John Mortimer 16 Aug 2006
Encouraging Confident Individuals with Carol Craig 16 August 2006
Tony Benn Tues 15 Aug 2006
Ngugi wa Thiong’o Mon 14 Aug 2006
Alexander Masters Mon 14 Aug 2006
Doris Lessing Mon 14 Aug 2006
Meg Rosoff Sun 13 Aug 2006
Charlie Higson Sun 13 Aug 2006

Quite a feast that for book lovers of all kinds. Visit the Festival link to access even more.

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2 responses to “Denise Mina and “Tartan Noir”

  1. David Smith

    April 17, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Have you ever read Alasdair Gray’s Lanark? Not noir, but definitely tartan. It’s a remarkable achievement because it cross-pollinates Marx and Kafka in a grim Glasgow setting and yet makes it funny (and also very moving).

  2. ninglun

    April 17, 2008 at 9:50 am

    No, but I will keep an eye out for it in Surry Hills Library.

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