Dead Pretty by David Mark

Dead PrettyTwo years have passed since the events of Taking Pity. The threat from the Headhunters, a ruthless group determined to take control of the Hull underworld, seems to have been dealt with but new problems have arisen. Hannah Kelly, a young woman, has been missing for nine months and her fate is haunting DS Aector McAvoy. Another girl, Ava Delaney, has been found brutally murdered in her flat. Two disparate crimes, but McAvoy is having trouble getting the images of the girls out of his head.

Meanwhile, his boss, Trish Pharaoh, is the scapegoat for an investigation gone terribly wrong and is on the verge of making a very bad mistake. His colleague DC Helen Tremberg has been transferred to the Drug Squad, but has stumbled across evidence of a serial killer, one determined to punish wrongdoers. Disparate strands leading the investigators in different directions – but some of them at least are soon going to converge – and it won’t be pretty when they do…

An odd month for me as I tend not to repeat an author within a month – and David Mark is the second author to get this honour. The reason – I’d basically forgotten about the fourth book in the series, Taking Pity, until I saw that this one was on the way. So, a request to NetGalley (and a little bit of prodding later) and I find myself reading about Aector once again.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is dark stuff, looking into the souls of characters in very dark places, which is not normally my sort of thing. But usually because this sort of darkness is usually detailing lurid serial killer fantasies whereas David Mark has a talent for making his characters seem terrifyingly real.

Take the two debt collectors in this tale. Their plot function is basically to be a threat. But in the writing of David Mark, they become three-dimensional characters. While they may be discussing whether or not to use a nail-gun on someone, somehow they get under your skin and you find yourself caring about what happens to these loathsome individuals. I’m not entirely sure how David pulls this trick off, but it’s a damn clever one.

And if you care about the villains – and there are more than just these two knocking around, with apparently at least two serial killers on the prowl – then you find yourself caring about the good guys even more. There is a sense that nobody is safe in the tale, so when someone finds themselves at the mercy of one of less palatable characters, you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen. And the pages keep turning in order to find out.

Plotwise, the ongoing tale of the Hull underworld takes a back seat to the various tales herein, but the threat of the Headhunters is still present and things take a very interesting turn in the final pages. But the heart of the tale is a whodunit/whatthehellisgoingon tale that manages to pull of at least one genuine surprise and keeps the reader gripped throughout.

To give an idea of how much I enjoyed this one, the ARC that I received was of an atrocious quality – every few pages, the text was punctuated with some code that I think related to the page numbers and every page had at least one word that had a rand om space in it for some reason. But the story was so compelling that after about two chapters, I literally stopped noticing it. This is another outstanding entry in a series that keeps getting better and better. Roll on the next book – but in the meantime, this is Highly Recommended.

The book is out tomorrow, January 28th. Many thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

Other books from David Mark:

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