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CONFIDENCE
by Denise Mina
Mulholland, July 2022
304 pages
$28.00
ISBN: 0316242721


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Anna McDonald and Fin Cohen, friends thrown together thanks to their marriages falling apart, have a popular true crime podcast, building on the events in a previous novel, CONVICTION. This time, they are contacted anonymously about an event that has become major news. A small silver casket with a Latin inscription, believed to hold relics from the crucifixion of Christ, is being auctioned in Paris by an unidentified seller. The artifact had featured in a YouTube video posted by Lisa Lee, a hapless would-be influencer who recorded her adventures as an urban explorer for a tiny audience. After visiting an abandoned chateau in France, where she came upon the casket in a secret attic room, she posted her video, went home to Scotland, and abruptly disappeared. It looks as if she may have been kidnapped or perhaps murdered.

Though media outlets are covering the massive gathering of evangelical Christians who have assembled in Paris, drawn by the auction of the holy relic, Anna and Fin decide instead to focus on what happened to Lisa Lee, in part because it's an excuse to escape a horrible holiday with their exes and Fin's abrasive new girlfriend, trapped in a rental on a rocky headland in epically bad weather.

After a hair-raising trip home to Glasgow, they are approached by a South African art dealer who also claims to care about the young woman's fate. He's traveling with his young son, whose existence he only recently learned of when the boy's intimidating mother insisted he take care of him for a while. The unlikely foursome embark on a wild escapade through Europe, tracing the history of the religious artifact that has apparently been tied to more than one murder.

It becomes clear that Bram van Wyk, the South African, is something of a con man, a theme of the novel. He's serving as a proxy bidder at the auction for an American billionaire, an adherent of the prosperity gospel (another con) whose spending on biblical artifacts for a bible museum has driven prices up and created fierce competition among wealthy collectors. Van Wyk will stand in for the billionaire to keep his position secret, but he may have an agenda of his own. There's a priest who has been ordered to stop saying the mass because, while he has attracted a devout following, he was never actually ordained. The abandoned chateau is not a historic building, but rather a shoddy imitation that's falling apart, the forest around it recently planted and unstable. And what about the casket itself? Is it a fake? If it's opened, will the faithful believe in what's inside, or will they be fooled by a fraud?

This busy story lacks some of the focused energy of CONVICTION, and doesn't have the animating anger that motivated Anna to find answers in the first entry of the series. The sharp reader may be able to put together the historical course of the casket as it passed among various criminal hands, but it's like trying to keep an eye on a shell game, and the travel itinerary is a bit exhausting.

That said, Mina retains a shrewd, funny narrative voice. She has peopled the story with characters who are deeply flawed but sometimes sympathetic nevertheless. The relationship between Bram van Wyk, the art dealer, and his newly-discovered son, is a constant tug of war between outright hostility and yearning to connect. The auction itself becomes a moment of taut suspense, followed by even more drama.

Overall, because of its tangled plot and uneven pacing, it's somewhat of a let-down after CONVICTION, but has enough of Mina's wry humor, surprising characters, and humanity to make it worth the trip.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, July 2022

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