Denise Mina is always willing to take her writing in fresh and interesting directions. Her last novel, The Long Drop, was based on a real-life murder trial in 1950s Glasgow. Now, in Conviction, she has written a novel which zings with contemporary concerns.
Anna McDonald is living in Glasgow, married to a lawyer, with two young daughters. They’re affluent and comfortable, if not exactly happy. Anna likes to escape the conflict in her marriage by getting up early, having some alone time, indulging her passion for books and podcasts. She has been listening to a true-crime podcast when she answers the door to her best friend.
Her best friend and her husband announce that they have been having an affair, and they are going away together, with the girls. After Anna has colourfully expressed her response, they leave, and she, in her despair, turns back to the podcast to distract her.
It’s the story of a wealthy businessman whose luxury yacht was blown up in the Mediterranean while he and his children were on board. Many believe that the woman who was convicted of the crime is innocent. As Anna listens she learns that the businessman was Leon Parker, a man she knew many years ago.
While she is musing on this, Fin, the husband of her formerly best friend turns up to offer consolation. Fin happens to be a famous rock star. When a starstruck neighbour takes their picture to share on social media, Anna panics. It turns out Anna has a secret and she doesn’t want to be recognised.
Fin wants to talk. Anna wants to get away. He decides to come with her. So begins a journey that takes in a number of stylish locations across Europe, as Anna ostensibly chases the story of the Dana, while also hoping to escape the attention she is sure the picture will bring her. In doing so she becomes both pursuer and pursued.
Anna and Fin’s first stop is Skibo Castle, the luxury hotel and celebrity hideaway in the Highlands where she once worked as a waitress and Leon was a guest. They also take in the exclusive Mediterranean port where the yacht was on the fateful night and Venice as they seek out the people who can shed light on the events on the Dana and in Anna’s own past.
The light and dark elements of the story are carefully balanced. There is some great comedy in the odd encounters along the way, and in Anna and Fin’s relationship. Fin is self-absorbed and fragile, Anna is abrasive and driven and singularly unimpressed by his fame or his music. The humour serves to heighten, rather than diminish, the darker elements of the novel.
Conviction raises interesting questions about the contradictory nature of fame and notoriety. At times along the way Fin’s fame leads people to help them out of trouble. But for Anna and Fin, visibility means both danger from others and internal conflict as they struggle to reconcile who they are and how the public sees them.
Anna’s dilemma as she tries to outrun her past is one that could apply to many people. She has moved away, changed her appearance, adopted a new life, but it is still there, online, waiting for someone to make the connection.
The writing may be clever but the reading is easy – full of pace and energy and fun. You may have to suspend disbelief for some elements of the plot but that all adds to the sense that Anna’s life has exploded and the normal rules no longer apply. When you lose everything, and there is suddenly nothing to anchor you, that brings a strange freedom.
Conviction’s glamorous locations and page-turning exuberance make it a good holiday read but it also has some sharp insights that stay with you long after the trip is over.
I received a copy of Conviction from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Conviction on Goodreads
Enjoyed this? Take a look at my crime novel Brand New Friend for another story about an old friend and an unsolved crime.
It was the 80s. Parties, protests, benefit gigs. It wasn’t meant to end in murder.
BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is deskbound in London after his family had to leave their beloved Cairo.
Then Paolo learns that Mark, a friend and fellow activist from his student days, was actually an undercover cop — and his handler has been murdered.
Paolo grabs the opportunity to get out and investigate, but Mark isn’t making it easy, disappearing just as everyone wants answers. And while Paolo is reminiscing about cheap beer and great bands, his old friends remember commitment, conspiracy and a death on campus that was never explained.
Is one of them a killer? As Paolo’s past and present lives collide, what he learns changes everything he thought he knew about his friends – and himself.