Review: David Mark – Dead Pretty

dead-pretty-david-mark-L-fhpcx5A review of the new novel from David Mark by Crimepieces guest reviewer, Rachel Hall.

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.


The Best of February’s Reading

Only four books reviewed in February but I do have a backlog of reviews to write, including one of an outstanding book that’s shaping up to be my read of the year.

1962665_10151925829526625_408074059_nMy highlight of February was the meeting of the judging panel for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian Crime Fiction. The shortlist will be announced this week on the 6th March. There was a lively discussion and some interesting themes emerging from the books we read. More of this on the 6th but, in the meantime, the picture on the right shows the judges as we concluded our long judging session. From left: Karen Meek, Kat Hall, Barry Forshaw and me.

My book of the month was easy to choose: David Mark’s third novel in his Hull based series, Sorrow Bound. It’s getting lots of rave reviews already and rightly so.

The four books I reviewed for Crimepieces were:

1. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson

2. The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier

3. Cairo by Chris Womersley

4. Sorrow Bound by David Mark

Review: David Mark – Sorrow Bound

An interesting trend I’ve noticed with many crime fiction readers is how much we like to start a series sorrow-boundwith the first book that was written. I can understand why this is the case: with long series especially, characters develop over time and you can only properly appreciate this if you start at the beginning. That said, I’m never able to read a series in order. Time and work pressures mean I tend to grab whatever book is going and I’m lucky if I have read a complete series. This is the case with David Mark’s novels set in Hull. I read the first book, The Dark Winter, which rightly had plaudits heaped upon it. I missed reading its sequel but can happily say that it made no difference to my enjoyment of the latest installment, Sorrow Bound.

Hull based policeman DS Aector McAvoy is investigating the murder of a woman found eviscerated on a patch of land. While suspicion initially falls on her former partner, another murder in a similar vein suggests there is a serial killer on the loose. But the team are also investigating the work of a local drugs boss under whose command violence is escalating in the local community. When a member of the police team is filmed in a compromising sexual encounter, not only is the investigation under threat but the lives of Aector’s family and friends.

What elevates David Mark’s books above other police procedurals is the strength of characterisation. This is most notable in Roisin, the wife of Aector, who comes from a traveller background and was the victim of a violent attack within that community. Rescued by Aector, she never comes across as a victim and we see the strength of her personality, not only through her actions but from the love of her husband and the respect she garners from his colleagues and her friends. The police team members are also well drawn: Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh in particular, with her complicated family life and brash personality, stands out.

The complexity of Mark’s writing is also apparent in how the setting is used. The city of Hull is not just stereotypical sink estates and run down factories, although we do get plenty of these. We also see other aspects of the region: a hamlet in East Yorkshire with its mullion windowed manor house and the bridle paths surrounding the city.

There’s a strong sense of friendship and community that holds this book together. To write anymore about this would be to give too much of the plot away but the book has a big heart and the dominant theme is one of love and solidarity in desperate circumstances.

For those who haven’t read any of Mark’s books, I’d recommend them wholeheartedly. And yes, you can start with this one.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy. Sorrow Bound is published on the 3rd April.

Review: David Mark – The Dark Winter

The Dark WinterThis is a book where I feel that I am one of the last people to read it in the UK, so extensively has it been reviewed. And the reviews have been almost universally positive for The Dark Winter, the début from Hull author David Mark. Time constraints have been my main reason for not opening the book before now, although on my copy there was an annoying sticker which proclaimed ‘As good as Peter Robinson or your money back’. This marketing ploy clearly isn’t the author’s fault, but every time I picked it off my  bookshelf, I would see the sticker and put it down again. However I finally read the book this week and enjoyed what was a well written and uncomfortable thriller.

Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy is a detective who loves his wife and child and is struggling to find a place for himself within the Hull police. Following an incident, where a known maverick policeman lost his job, he is unpopular with his colleagues and sidelined into a job involving spreadsheets. When he witnesses the murder of a young girl from Sierra Leone he becomes drawn into a case that may be racially motivated. The girl was a the only survivor of a machete attack in her native country and it seems a cruel irony that she became a victim of the same type of killing in Britain. However, when the only survivor of a decades old fishing accident is drowned, and then a drug-addict who was the sole person who escaped a family fire is burnt to death, it becomes clear that a murderer is obsessed with eliminating those who have been lucky enough to survive previous tragedies.

This is an unusual premise and one that could have seemed too sensational or screamed ‘serial killer’ but I found the book to be more restrained than that. This is mainly because of the depth of characterisation which means that the focus of the narrative is on the people involved rather than the deeds committed. Aector is in love with his family and draws from them the support that he needs to go about his working life. There is an interesting back story to how he and and his wife Roisin met and she also plays a pivotal role in the story. His boss, the exuberant mother-of-four Trish Pharoah is also an interesting character, alternatively supportive and exasperated with Aector. The victims are also given plenty of depth, not always the case in a crime novel, even if it is retrospective in relation to the dead girl.

The writing was very assured and although I groaned when I saw it was written in the present tense, I did get into the narrative quickly. I suppose the plot was ultimately slightly over the top but it didn’t spoil the book for me and the characters were interesting enough to keep me reading this series.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. Reviews can be found at It’s A Crime, Raven Crime Reads, Eurocrime and Shots. The book has also been chosen as a Richard and Judy read for the spring.