Oh, look! The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has reached the letter O in our ‘orrifying journey through the alphabet. Thanks as ever to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for showing us all the sights and frights. Everyone’s taking a bit of a rest after unpacking, so now is a good time for me to share my contribution for this week’s stop: Denise Mina’s Maureen “Mauri” O’Donnell.
In Garnethill, the first of the trilogy that features her, O’Donnell is a ticket-taker at a Glasgow theatre. In Exile, she’s gotten a position at the Place of Safety women’s shelter and in Resolution she works as a market stall-holder. O’Donnell might not have a permanent steady sort of profession, but she’s smart, determined and has plenty of courage. So as the events in the three novels play out she finds the inner strength she needs to deal with them.
And that is one of O’Donnell’s most appealing characteristics. She is both courageous and determined. She has to be. She comes from a terrible background with a mother who drinks far too much and a father who’s a paedophile. In Garnethill she’s found the inner resources she needs to break up with her married boyfriend Douglas Brady only to find herself framed for murder when his body is found in her flat. In the course of trying to clear her name and that of her brother Liam, O’Donnell has to go up against DCI Joe McEwan, who is convinced that either O’Donnell is guilty or she is covering up for her brother. She needs that courage again in Exile when she searches for the murderer of Ann Harris, a woman who was a resident of the Place of Safety shelter for a short time. Everyone thinks that Harris’ husband Jimmy is the murderer but Jimmy’s cousin Louise, who is O’Donnell’s best friend, doesn’t think he’s guilty. As O’Donnell searches for the truth she goes up against some very nasty people who were involved with the victim and who do not want O’Donnell asking questions. In Resolution, O’Donnell has to prepare to testify against the person who murdered Douglas Brady. And as if that doesn’t require enough courage, she looks into an attack on fellow market-stall holder Ella McGee. She also has to deal with the fact that her father, who left the family years ago, has returned and may now be a threat to her pregnant sister.
Another glance at these plot lines also shows how loyal a person O’Donnell is. In all three of these novels, she gets involved in events because someone she cares about is threatened. O’Donnell is a damaged person (more about that shortly) but she is a staunch, staunch friend. She is willing to do whatever it takes, including risking her own life, to help others, especially those who’ve been badly treated by life.
O’Donnell has plenty of faults. She drinks far too much, she smokes heavily and she has real trouble keeping a job and getting on professionally. She can be prickly and inconsiderate too and she says what’s on her mind without much regard for tact. But she admits her faults and they make her more human. O’Donnell is very honest about her own failings and because she is neither smug nor self-righteous she doesn’t judge others. And that’s another appealing aspect of her character. For instance her brother Liam has had drug problems and other issues yet she stands up for him in Garnethill when DCI McEwan suspects him of murder. Her friend Louise’s cousin Jimmy is not exactly the most successful and pleasant of people. And yet when Louise swears that Jimmy is not guilty of murdering his wife O’Donnell doesn’t play judge, jury and executioner as the saying goes. She searches for the truth.
As I mentioned above, Mauri O’Donnell has been badly wounded by life. She’s the daughter of a paedophile and an alcoholic. She’s troubled by flashbacks to that childhood and to the murder of Douglas Brady. Her family relationships are all dysfunctional to at least some extent. She is in fact damaged enough that she finds it difficult to maintain any kind of really intimate relationship. As she herself admits in Exile,
“I’m a s*** girlfriend.”
She’s even had a stint in psychiatric care. But she doesn’t wallow in self-pity and that makes her character all the more appealing. She is an extremely pragmatic person who’s much more concerned with getting on with life as best she can – and maybe even trying to be happy – than she is with blaming others for her problems. She really has an awful lot of grit.
Another appealing aspect of O’Donnell’s character is her sense of compassion. Many of the characters we meet in this trilogy are what you might call “down-and-outers.” They’re vulnerable for one or another reason or life’s dealt them a proverbial bad hand. Although O’Donnell is by no means gullible or sappy she does have empathy for those in trouble. I use that word empathy deliberately because part of the reason for that sense of caring is that O’Donnell knows all too well what it’s like to get the short end of the stick so to speak. For example in Garnethill, O’Donnell’s search for the truth about Douglas Brady leads her to the psychiatric facility where she herself was under care. There she meets Siobhain McCloud, who has her own story to tell that just may be key to solving Brady’s murder. As she interacts with McCloud we can see that she has real compassion and treats McCloud with caring and respect that McCloud has probably rarely experienced before.
Maureen O’Donnell has plenty of faults, weaknesses and failings. But she has a real core of resilience, a strong sense of loyalty and compassion and she’s got more courage than a lot of other fictional sleuths. Oh, and her story is told in three – yes, only three – novels. So “meeting” her doesn’t add much to an already-towering TBR pile.
I’m quite certain that if she and I were work-mates or friends and I was in trouble, Mauri O’Donnell wouldn’t judge or ask questions. She wouldn’t say she was too busy or had problems of her own. She would do whatever it took to help without making a lot of fuss or expecting adoration in return. Aye, I’m sure of it.