Mina, Denise. Exile.

NY: Little, Brown, 2001.

This second novel about Maureen O’Donnell of working-class Glasgow picks up a few months after the first one left off , with Maureen trying to spend the money left her by her murdered, married boyfriend and working for a foundation (or the Scottish equivalent) that manages a string of women’s shelters — an institution that seems more needed in her city than most.

Her best friend, Leslie (who manages one of the shelters), has always been a tough, no-nonsense biker-girl type, but Maureen has learned that that’s mostly self-protection on her part. And then Ann Harris, a woman who had left the shelter against advice (they tend, for mysterious reasons, to go back to the husbands who beat them), is found murdered down in London, and Leslie admits the victim was her cousin’s wife — but Jimmy, who swears he never touched her, and who is now trying helplessly to raise four small children, really doesn’t seem the type. The cops are likely to take the easy way out, though — so, Leslie wants to know, can Maureen lend a hand?

Her friend has no intention of getting involved, and besides, she and Leslie are currently having problems, but then she meets the feckless husband and agrees to poke into things. And off she goes to London on the night bus, where she rattles the wrong cages and turns over the wrong stones — her ex-drug-dealer brother, Liam, keeps trying to explain to her just how naïve she is about the outside world but she won’t listen — and pretty soon she’s in serious danger herself. Meanwhile, while Maureen is rummaging around in London, DI Arthur Williams of the Met has journeyed up to his home town of Glasgow to try to solve the murder the proper way.

Mina paints contrasting portraits of the Scots and the Londoners, both police and Bad Guys, and likewise of the milieu each inhabits. Brixton is just as scary as parts of Glasgow, but Maureen never lets any of that faze her. It’s a dirty, scruffy, dangerous world but it’s hers. Her own extremely dysfunctional family plays a lesser part in the story this time, if only because she’s trying hard to avoid all of them except Liam, but her alcoholic mother is constantly on her answering machine and her abusive father (now back in town himself) is a constant feature of her nightmares, both asleep and awake. Maureen, who sometimes lacks a properly developed sense of self-preservation, seems to be becoming more fatalistic, too, in a “kill me and get it over with” sort of way.

There’s a third volume about Maureen and her tribulations yet to come, but reading about her is stressful — Mina is that skillful a storyteller — so I’m going to wait a bit before I tackle it.

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