It seems hard to believe that Dead Pretty sees the fifth outing of DS Aector McAvoy in a series which first made an appearance in 2012. In that time, David Mark has quickly established himself as a writer with a reputation for his gritty police procedurals featuring the gentle giant DS McAvoy. Consistently strong on characterisation and with superb dialogue, Mark delivers a powerful story with the victims of some of the very darkest crimes of society right at its heart and a wry line in black humour along the way.
This is a series which I first encountered with book three, Sorrow Bound, which read well as a standalone but also left me with a need to hear more from both David Mark and his characters, in particular boss DS Trish Pharoah. Whilst it is wife Roisin with her traveller background that so many are keen to point out as what makes Aector so distinct, it is his rapport and relationship with Pharoah which really shines through and makes this series a winner.
Stubborn and relentless in his search for justice, the polite and restrained McAvoy seems the opposite of his brassy and often abrasive superior. Yet these two are both dedicated detectives, and readers learn that this is a team who have grown together over time. From his earnest years at the inception of the series, Pharoah has guided McAvoy and he, in turn, has shown her the benefit of not always storming in with all guns blazing. There is a believable chemistry between the pair and a mutual respect and affection is evident.
Dead Pretty sees the team in Hull facing numerous problems against a backdrop of scarce resources and an increasing workload. David Mark presents a picture of the despondency and disillusionment which prevail among the rank and file officers and the black humour which the characters call on to keep morale up feels natural. Aector is steadfastly searching for a missing girl and his devoted wife Roisin knows that his failure to find her is haunting him. When another girl is found brutally murdered, he looks for the connections between the two. DC Helen Bremberg, on her return from maternity leave, finds herself an unwilling secondee to the Drug Squad and back working for her nemesis, DI Shaz Archer. However, her discovery of a body in a disused property on a council estate and what looks like a victim of a vigilante attack draws her back within the domain of her former colleagues.
Whilst I found the connections between the two girls that McAvoy identifies somewhat tenuous, and whilst I retained my scepticism of the likelihood of such an occurrence, it did not spoil my enjoyment of Dead Pretty. David Mark taps into wider media debate surrounding feelings toward those who commit vigilante attacks and an individual’s right to protect themselves and their family which in turn leads some of those who work within the unit to evaluate where they stand on the issue.
Mark does a magnificent job in painting a vivid picture of Hull, a city where picturesque rural villages stand shoulder to shoulder with sink estates and he delivers an authentic picture of a busy city with a diverse population. With trendy drinking haunts side by side with the altogether more unsavoury goings on in society, Dead Pretty also makes interesting social observations. With the odd snippets of information about the people who inhabit the city, Mark speaks volumes about the people who choose to make this city their home.
Dead Pretty can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, but I doubt one encounter with McAvoy and Pharoah will be enough. There is no doubt these two work together well. If you are looking for a gritty police procedural with a strong moral compass and a splendid eye for dark humour then look no further than David Mark. Dead Pretty makes for a pleasingly complicated and satisfying novel.