Map of Blue Book Balloon

6 July 2022

#Review - Confidence by Denise Mina

Cover for book “Confidence” by Denise Mina. Looking up at a French Chateau, all pointy towers and gables, seen through a screen of trees and against a turquoise sky. Across the picture, the words “Deception. Theft. Murder. All you need is CONFIDENCE.”
Confidence (Anna and Fin, 2)
Denise Mina
Harvill Secker (Penguin Random House), 7 July 2022
Available as: HB, 3044pp, e, audio
Source: Advance e-copy
ISBN(HB): 9781787301740

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of Confidence via Netgalley to consider for review.

Confidence returns us to the world of podcasters Anna and Fin, whom Mina introduced in Conviction - the events of which turned Anna's middle class suburban life upside down. 

At the beginning of Confidence, Anna seems to have retained some of that safety - holidaying with her now ex, Hamish, and their girls, alongside his new wife and Fin and his new partner. All in an isolated lighthouse, where they can cosy around and bond with one another. What could go wrong?

Of course it doesn't work - the weather is horrendous, the heating fails and soon Anna is fleeing into the teeth of the gale, putting domesticity behind her again to pursue Lisa Lee, a young urban explorer who's gone missing (Anna and Fin have received a tip-off about this). Anna had never set eye on or even heard of Lisa before this evening, so what is it about Lisa that makes Anna abandon family and even safety and head out into the night?

Readers of Conviction will know that Anna did something similar there, although she did have the excuse that there was a direct threat to her. And that Anna had a secret, and a buried identity, both of which came back to haunt her. It may be that she's still dealing with the trauma of those events, and of their being known - and that the pressure has just got too much? Or is something else going on?

Whatever, Anna flings herself (and Fin) into the search for Lisa, who disappeared after posting an online video which seems to reveal a lost secret, something she found while exploring a forbidden French chateau. A chateau that the owners seemed to have abandoned at short notice...

Teaming up with the mysterious Bran van Wyk, South African drug smuggler, dealer in shady antiques and member of the super-rich and his sulky teenage son Marcos, Anna and Fin plunge into a complex trans-European quest seeking the origins of a religious artifact, the whereabouts of Lisa, and the truth behind a series of deaths and misfortunes that have attended the progress of the silver casket from its discovery in a Hungarian field to the Parisian auction house where it is now to be sold. The casket is the focus of conspiracy theories, religious fanaticism and, apparently, criminal gangs. Anna's obsession with it seems to have an element of playing with fire, with risk.

This story is in the end not I think a mystery in quite the same way as Conviction was. I don't think that by the end we are a great deal further on with understanding who the actors are, who is doing what to who and who is working for who else. Perhaps there isn't, here, a devious conspiracy, despite the Vatican being namechecked, so much as a muddle of greed, lies and desire for power. It's hard to take what anyone says as straight, except perhaps the little people, such as Lisa's friends with whom she made her video. 

As Anna and Fin become more and more confused, as Anna smokes more and more and evades questions from her daughters, it seems that they may be getting swallowed up in an unreality far from the comfort and safety of home. As they are following, not leading? How will they ever extract themselves from this dangerous world? Anna and Fin are in many respects witnesses, tagging along as events toss them now to Rome, now to Paris, back to London and so on. They are, perhaps, the man (and woman) in the street, aghast at the segment of society where organised crime, vast inherited wealth, religious obsession and a ruthless art-smuggling market overlap and bleed into one another. But at the same time they are voluntarily joining in events, passing up several opportunities to bail out and go home. Why they are doing so is for me the real mystery in Conviction, and that's part of (especially) Anna's longing story which is a long way from being resolved but I hope will be explored in further books.

I enjoyed Confidence. You need to accept that the "truth" behind events here barely matters - then you can sit back to enjoy and the ride and in particular Mina's exquisite character studies: chiefly Bran, the plausible rogue who seems to delight in telling six lies before breakfast (and then it will be a top of the range breakfast in the smartest of hotels, served in the room - or the suite - if you want). But she's also very good with the minor characters, especially the women. A new mother in a disordered flat, breastfeeding her infant in a haze of exhaustion and bliss. An apparently haughty auction house employee, confined in tight skirt and high heels, who jostles uncomfortably with Anna and Bran over a tray of champagne flutes. And more, all of them lifting the story beyond merely being a sequence of "things happening".

Through it all, Anna is at the centre of things, clearly distracting herself from facing some truths about herself and the questions that are bound to come from her daughters. (But I think there's more there). Her observations of the relationship between Bran and Marcos provide her with a stream of ongoing internal prompts, questions and moral touchstones which she uneasily takes to heart even as she refuses to answer calls form her own girls. There is more than a hint here, as I have said, that for Anna, this crazy adventure can actually stop at any point, if she wants. Say once she has found firm ground to stand on and can face her girls? The question is, will she do that before things take a turn - constantly hinted at and threatened - for the dangerous? You don't know who you are dealing with, Bran says at one point, and that's clearly true. Will Anna find out while there's still time, though?

Very entertaining and fun to read with some real moral heft (and a whole religious dimension I haven't said much about but which provides another ethical counterpoint to the whole story).

For more information about Confidence, see the publisher's website here.

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