Original Skin – David Mark

The second in the DS McAvoy series (my review of the first is here), this is a fine crime novel with a nicely balanced mix of good characters, decent backdrop, and snappy writing.

The plot, such as it is, involves a young couple who are sexually promiscuous and adventurous. Their journey through life takes them to the wrong place at the wrong time, and one of them ends up dead. The other is next on the killer’s list, if only the killer can track down the victim. At the same time, the police in Hull are struggling to cope with high levels of drug related violence, and bitter complaints from the locals about lack of action being taken against traveler folk.

The plot is the weakest part of the novel; it’s not complex, and is somewhat mechanically unwound and revealed. However, it’s a plot that is much more realistic and grounded in actual human desires and capabilities, with no requirement for super duper evil or worldwide conspiracies.

McAvoy is a great character – as is his wife – and seeing the fractured world through his eyes is a worthwhile experience. His police colleagues include some who rise above the cardboard cutout status, and that surely helps.

In short, this is a bit of a step up in quality from the first, encouraging me enough to ensure I will be returning to the series. I wouldn’t bother with the first unless you are a completist. This one is definitely worth reading if you like crime books.

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Dark Winter – David Mark

dark-winter

This is the first in a now established crime series featuring Detective Sergeant Aector (Hector) McAvoy, the Scotsman doing his bit for law and order in Hull.

The book starts with the killing of an old sea dog, the only survivor of a shipping disaster from forty years ago. Then, the only survivor of a massacre in Africa is brutally murdered with a machete in broad daylight in a city church. McAvoy is on the edge of proceedings, having a somewhat difficult recent history with the local police, because he ended the career of a popular (but bad) detective. However, by one of those quirks of fate that drives so much of our lives, and even more of our fiction, McAvoy is drawn into the central investigation, and the hunt is on to find the killer.

Good stuff

McAvoy is an interesting, well drawn character, though at times his behavior stretches the suspension of disbelief too far. The Hull backdrop is also well done, and takes up just the right amount of space in the telling of the tale. The plot is delivered with surprising panache for a first novel, and the sense of danger, action, and excitement are all pretty damn good.

Not so good stuff

The plot itself is a stinker. The motivation and explanation for these crimes does not hang together, and does not convince. That may be because it is not well written, or it may be that it is simply unbelievable. Regardless, it stank.

Similarly, most readers are going to work out what is going on well ahead of McAvoy and his police colleagues. I often wonder why the characters cannot see the bleeding obvious.

The supporting characters are the proverbial cardboard city, apart perhaps from his superior, Trish Pharaoh. She is a strange one: trying too hard to make her way in a man’s world, her behavior swings from extreme to extreme. Sometimes dictatorial, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes flirty, sometimes caring, sometimes just offering up some bland dialogue. She did not convince me.

Overall

Books like this face a challenge in a crowded market. They have to stand out from similar fare. This one just about does it, but not without a struggle. I’m intrigued enough to want to read more, because the author may better develop his characters and his story telling. In short, not bad, with some potential.

Finally, check out the quote from Val McDermid on the book cover at the top of this post. It will have been worth a few bob to David Mark, but I have to vehemently disagree with her, and don’t understand on what basis she can have made it. I’ve made a note to ignore recommendations by Val McDermid.

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