Edinburgh Book Festival review: Denise Mina

For her new novella about the murder of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, Denise Mina found a compelling but hitherto unsung heroine, writes Susan Mansfield

Denise Mina PIC: Lisa Ferguson / JPI Media

Murder is nothing new for Denise Mina, but her new novella looks at one of Scottish history’s most famous: the death of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots. Her challenge, then, is how to retell a story everyone thinks they know. But Mina is interested in the “spaces between the stories”, and there are plenty of loose ends in this violent tale on which an award-winning crime writer who revels in research can tug.

The key question, Mina says, is not why Rizzio died – in an attack designed to get at the pregnant Queen, in the hope that she would die of shock and her husband Lord Darnley (“Donald Trump Jnr”) could then seize the throne. The question is how, in dark times in which children were murdered in cold blood and dead men dug up to stand trial, Mary managed to survive.

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Thus emerges the real heroine of the story, Lady Huntly, who lost her family and her wealth at the hands the Crown, but who in “a moment of history-changing kindness” helped Mary escape, thus also saving her unborn child, James VI. Yet history has traditionally left her on the margins, as it has the Edinburgh citizens who marched on Holyrood that night believing their Queen to be in danger.

Rizzio is the first in the Dark Lands series from Edinburgh-based publisher Polygon, in which contemporary writers take on stories in Scottish history. It bodes well for the others, which include Jenni Fagan on the witch trials and Alan Warner on Bonnie Prince Charlie.

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