This 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.