A retired trawlerman revisits the site of a tragedy in the North Sea. Forty years previously, he was the only survivor of the sinking of his ship. Lured to the site for a television documentary, he is attacked and left for dead, floating in a lifeboat.
Meanwhile, in Hull, in the middle of a Christmas service, a choirgirl, a refugee from Sierra Leone, is hacked to death with a machete. The masked killer escapes, but not until bumping into DS Aector McAvoy.
McAvoy becomes convinced that these seemingly unrelated crimes are connected, and strikes out on his own to try and solve the case. But the seemingly gentle giant of a policeman is not without his own issues – not least an incident that threatened to tear apart the local police force and left him on the wrong end of a killer’s knife…
The nice people at Blue Water Press sent me a copy of The Dark Winter, the first novel by crime reporter David Mark – it’s been out in the UK for six months or so, and is due for a US release on 25th October. Of course it doesn’t bode too well that while it’s been out over here for six months, I hadn’t heard of it…
Well, I shouldn’t have worried. This is an excellent read.
David Mark has a very distinctive voice. While it initially feels odd as it is written in the present tense but after a few pages, this interesting choice simply feels… right. And after a while, you basically stop noticing it.
The majority of the book is seen from Aector (pronounced Hector) McAvoy’s point of view, and Mark makes a point of really putting you into McAvoy’s thoughts and feelings. This is a good man, despite being plagued with… issues, I suppose you’d say. But McAvoy’s issues, mostly stemming from the past event that split the local police force, are only hinted at. You know enough to keep you happy, but there is still clearly more to tell. You get the chance to eavesdrop on the thoughts of some of the supporting characters as well. This gives the chance to see what others think of McAvoy, which helps the atmosphere of the story. Mark does very wisely choose to limit who we listen too, though, as at no point do we get the point of view of any of the suspects, or the perpetrators themselves.
The overall effect I got when reading this book was that it was a genuine attempt to write a different style of crime novel – not an easy achievement. The last time I read something like this, the style was totally overdone and the plot, such as it was, was complete nonsense. I’m delighted to say that this was not the case here.
The style of writing is mesmerising, and Mark has clearly thought out his characters well. It’s also one of the quickest reads that I’ve experienced recently, primarily because I couldn’t put it down. After some recent reads that were either familiar and comfortable or unfamiliar but dull, this was like a breath of fresh air – something different but refreshing.
As is the point of the blog is the classic mystery, I should just note that the mystery was the weakest part of the story – while there is a genuine whodunnit here, it felt that the reader (well, me anyway) was always one step ahead of the police, and I don’t think this was intended. The killer stood out like a sore thumb as did the link between the crimes. There’s also a very odd bit towards the end when McAvoy makes a pretty bizarre leap to who the killer’s next victim is, when the true target is a much more obvious choice.
But the thing is, I didn’t care about the shortcomings of the plot. This is a riveting read and I’m delighted to see that there’s another on the way early next year. Highly recommended.