Denise Mina – Conviction
Published by Vintage, paperback £8.99. My review is of the hardback edition (Harvill Secker, £14.99) purchased new.
The prologue – which speaks of telling the truth and reveals the fact our main character, Anna, is actually called Sophie – immediately puts your senses on high alert. Anna is married to Hamish, a successful lawyer. They have two daughters and live in a grand house in Glasgow. She tells us: “I chose Hamish quite carefully.” She’s hiding in plain sight – no-one is looking at the trophy wife, only the powerful man she stands next to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also have trust issues…
As the book opens, she is listening to a true crime podcast series called Death And The Dana which delves into the deaths of a father and two children on board the eponymous luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. But then Anna hears the name of the father – Leon Parker – and her day begins to fall apart. Anna met Leon when she was working as a chambermaid at Skibo Castle, and he was a guest at the super-exclusive holiday resort, sharing cigarettes in quiet corners on her breaks.
Just a handful of pages into Conviction and I’m already unsure that we’re going to find much truth here – we’ll certainly be thoroughly bamboozled before we finally do. Should we take things at face value? Try and read between the lines? There’s a metafictional feel to this novel, and it gives a peculiar thrill.
In the present a bombshell arrives in the form of a knock on the door. In need of distraction, Anna goes back to the podcast, where we find out more about Leon and his widow, Gretchen Teigler – the woman Anna was running away from when she was Sophie. Between the episodes exploring the past are slivers of the present, as Anna runs from the wreckage of her new life.
As the podcast series ends, Anna arrives at Skibo with Fin – who is essentially the fallout from the explosion of Anna’s life – in tow, and she promises us explanations. Until this point I’ve been ambivalent about Anna. But when we see what happened to her when she was Sophie – so very awful, so very real – sympathy floods in. Then she runs, and becomes Anna, and I’m back to ambivalent as Hamish and their children are brought into the web of lies. Sophie escaped the fate the world anticipated and made a new story for herself; something to applaud, surely. But as Anna, she inevitably brings trouble from that past to those she loves now. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unsure of what to think of a central character; whether to be sympathetic. It’s disorienting, but I suspect that’s the point.
Anna and Fin then head to France to investigate the Dana case and create their own podcast series picking up where the original left off; this and some of the events that follow are hugely implausible but they carry you through. Finally we get to Paris and to a meeting with the mysterious Gretchen, and the discovery of who really killed the family.
The last pages send us scurrying back to the beginning to read the novel again, bringing our new-found knowledge to bear. But do we trust Anna any more now than we did at the beginning of the novel? I’m not sure we do. And that feeling of insecurity even after a scene of such contented finality, is what gives this novel its power.