Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Dark Winter, by David Mark

Blue Rider Press/Penguin, 2012
originally published by Quercus, 2012 (UK)
292 pp

The more crime fiction I read the more I think I'm starting to see it all, but that's not at all the case in The Dark Winter, by David Mark.  Sure, you'll find some of the same character tropes in this novel as you might in any other, but the original premise of this book,  the main character and the setting are the things  I found most appealing here. Without giving away the show,  I definitely haven't seen this plotline around before, and it's a good one. I think this author definitely has a future in writing.

The action of this novel takes place largely in and around Hull, West Yorkshire, where Aector McAvoy is a detective sergeant with Humberside CID. McAvoy is a cop with a troubled past. Because of him, a senior officer was relieved of his duties and other crooked cops were "scattered the four winds," but what actually took place is kept under wraps within the department. The officer's dismissal and McAvoy's involvement have made Aector the target of some of the other officers' derision; refusing to take a transfer that would remove him from all of this only made things worse for him. Now on the Serious and Organized Crime Unit, he now serves in a more administrative, ambassadorial kind of role, and his inner mantra runs something like "be the gentle soul...Keep your head down. Get on with your job. Earn a wage. Love your wife."

 It's just coming up on Christmas and McAvoy is out with his little son Fin while his wife Roisin does some shopping. They're sitting at a cafe and McAvoy is captivated by the sound of a choir in nearby Holy Trinity church. While he's listening, lost in thought, from the church comes screaming, the sound of "terror unleashed." He reaches the church just in time to watch a figure emerge from the doors carrying a knife -- which is promptly raised against him. As the man flees, someone yells "He's killed her. She's dead. She's dead!" The victim is a young girl dressed in a white choir cassock, half of which is saturated with blood, killed in front of everyone during the service. However, the case is going to be handled by acting Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh, while Aector is sent out on a mission to break the news of a man's death to his sister, the wife of the vice chair of the Police Authority. But when McAvoy's visit to the vice chair's wife leads him to suspect that something is not at all right with the manner of her brother's death, he can't help but to get involved.  As more people begin to turn up dead, he slowly begins to discern a connection among these seemingly-random killings, and his own advice about  laying low is laid by the wayside.  Trouble is, can he convince the others, some of whom have already made up their minds who the killer might be?

I came into this novel after much time away from UK crime fiction, and I started it hoping that there would be something setting it apart from many of the other hundreds of novels in this category.  Mark's fresh premise and storyline kept me guessing the entire time, as did his evocation of the economic decline of local industry, his take on the negative sides of journalism and the publishing industry, and especially the character of McAvoy. But as much as I liked this book, and as much as I offer kudos to the author's manipulation skills, there are a few things that made this novel less than perfect for me. First, the obligatory sex scene that has absolutely zero to do with the plot or with character development; second, the clue that cracks this case wide open and leads McAvoy to the killer is based more on coincidence than on detection; finally, the epilogue -- had the author ended the book prior to that short section, even with the coincidental link to the killer it would have finished on a much more realistic note.

In the acknowledgments section, Mr. Mark thanks someone from Blue Rider in part for "believing that American readers would give a damn" about reading his book.  If I'm any kind of judge, they definitely will.  And if this first taste of his writing is any hint of what's to come, they'll be interested in the rest of the series as well.  Super first effort.

crime fiction from the UK

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