Strong Women: great, gritty Scottish detectives from Denise Mina and Val McDermid

I read all kinds of mysteries, but I find I’m particularly drawn to those with smart, tough, independent women characters. Denise Mina has written two series, the Garnet Hill trilogy with Maureen O’Donnell and the Paddy Meehan trilogy, both featuring feisty women who do battle for themselves and others. Slip of the Knife, the third and most recent Paddy Meehan mystery, is tense and atmospheric, just the kind of mystery we expect from Mina. Glasgow’s long-depressed, but upturning economy and world-weary people (this entry in the series is set in the early 90’s) are the backdrop for this terrific character, a reporter for a Glasgow newspaper who struggles in the male journalist culture for her precarious hold on her job. Paddy has grown in various ways since her first outing (Field of Blood)-and it is worthwhile, though not necessary, to read this series from the beginning. As you might guess by her name, Paddy is from an Irish family, but born and bred in Scotland. That dual heritage creates one set of tensions for Paddy. Another is her large Catholic family, the source of both great frustration and deep security. Paddy is a tough, tenacious, nosy reporter, who is tripped up by the ordinary difficulties we all face. In this outing, she is driven by her powerful love for her young son, but also by her past relationship with fellow journalist and murder victim Terry Hewitt. Mina writes rough, funny, touching novels-but be forewarned that some scenes are graphically violent.

Val McDermid has written so many excellent mysteries, it’s hard to know which one to recommend first. Like Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters, McDermid often portrays the detailed workings of psychopathic characters and the parallel mental labyrinths the detectives engage in to know and track their prey, as she does in Place of Execution (the mystery that hooked me on her). It involves the disappearance of a young teenage girl and Inspector George Bennett’s desperate work to find her. McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series (source of the TV series Wire in the Blood), is also excellent from Mermaids Singing to the recent Beneath the Bleeding.  In all McDermid’s mysteries, you’ll get fascinating characters, fast-moving plots with great twists and turns, and lots of the sound and texture of contemporary Scotland.