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September 02

Alex Grant reads the latest murder mysteries

The long-established triumvirate of U.K. mystery novelists composed of writers P.D. James, Ruth Rendell (pen-name Barbara Vine) and Frances Fyfield (aka Frances Hegarty) is now being challenged by a trio of relative newcomers who flaunt both their regionalism (Scotland and the North-West) and their sophisticated ‘broad-band’ feminism - Denise Mina (RESOLUTION), Danuta Reah (NIGHT ANGELS) and Manda Scott (NO GOOD DEED).

These women seldom pen ‘whodunnits’ per se, moreso they author ‘whydunnits’ replete with psychological subtlety, startling ambivalences and frankness.
P.D. James’ repute lies in his formal, intricate and icy plotting. Ruth Rendell’s fame rests upon her acute awareness and sympathy for truly psychopathic characters. Frances Fyfield’s good name thrives upon sidelong experimental and, at times, wildly funny narrative ingenuity. This is particularly true of her current novel THE NATURE OF THE BEAST, a laugh-out-loud ode to man’s best friend. The dog.

360 pages
(4 November, 2002) Bantam Press; ISBN: 0593046579

366 pages
(5 June, 2002) Collins Crime; ISBN: 0007116292

298 pages new edition
(24 August, 2000) The Women's Press; ISBN: 0704346850

Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy is relentlessly downbeat and sordid. She would insist that it is candid. Mina’s protagonist ‘Maureen O’Donnell’ is a blue-collar alcoholic Glaswegian. The victim of sexual corruption at the hands of her father, Maureen is torn between the desire to avenge herself upon this beast, and her lust to have justice done to the diabolical murderer of her lover. Her nemesis, former psychologist ‘Angus Farrell’ had initially seemed to be a God-sent therapist who could heal her wounds. In actuality, Angus was a serial rapist of the patients in his care.
The conclusion of Denise Mina’s saga RESOLUTION, now in paperback, is totally mesmerizing even though it painfully captures utterly shattered lives lived in a chaotic inner-city hell.

Danuta Reah’s three novels are far more surreal and solipsistic. Her stories are deeply embedded in the rivers of consciousness of women characters. Often highly fearful and distraught women.
Again, this relative newcomer to the mystery genre wrestles with the demons of emotional vampirism, sexual exploitation and the gross imbalances of gender entitlement.

On the surface, a far more conventional novelist Manda Scott writes suspense books featuring her extremely consciencious psychiatrist heroine ‘Dr. Kellen Stewart’ and Dr. Stewart’s vulnerable soul-mate and patient ‘Nina Crawford’, a tormented veterinarian.
The first three books by Scott (HEN’S TEETH, NIGHTMARES and STRONGER THAN DEATH) develop a dense, cryptic style of story-telling, close to that utilized by Frances Fyfield, especially in her last but one book, UNDERCURRENTS.
Essentially, Denise Mina, Danuta Reah and Manda Scott are urging the crime genre of literature closer to the mainstream of contemporary fiction. Of course, without the longstanding vigorous impetus provided by James, Rendell and Fyfield such a daunting task to make crime novels respectable would have been even more daunting.

© Alex Grant October 2002

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