Detectives come in all shapes and sizes, but they probably don’t come much bigger than David Mark’s giant DS Aector McAvoy. In Original Skin – the follow-up to the acclaimed Dark Winter – McAvoy shows a quiet determination to uncover the truth of a young man’s lonely death.
There’s a lot to like in this novel, in which Detective Sergeant McAvoy’s investigation uncovers a hidden world of swingers parties and dogging and anonymous internet sex. It’s a heartbreaking little world full of heartbreaking little people gathering in lay-bys. Mark dissects this grubby underworld with a compassionate eye and lots of humour, and has a devastating turn of phrase at his disposal when he needs to (‘One man entirely naked, sitting on the edge of a wicker chair with his shrunken manhood sitting on his balls like a hat.’).
McAvoy’s investigation leads him to Suzie Devlin, a lost and lonely girl meandering through the swingers scene, who has been targeted by an unknown assailant for reasons she can’t fathom. Inevitably, secrets and lies are exposed at the heart of local politics in McAvoy’s home patch – the East Yorkshire city of Hull. A former proud fishing port now fallen on hard times, Hull is a great location for a crime series. A sense of urban degradation pervades the book. It rains so much in this novel you end up smelling like a damp dog just from reading it.
So, McAvoy, then. He’s a big ginger Scottish softie. A shy, loving father and family man with with a heart of gold. He’s devoted to his wife and kids, and when he’s not horse-whispering, pursues his murder investigation death with a stolid determination, a baby carrier in his meaty fist.
There’s a lot to like about McAvoy. For a copper he’s a fantastically counter intuitive creation. You wouldn’t be at all surprised if he started tucking into some cow pie. He kind of reminds me a bit of Gan from Blake’s 7 – christ, I’m showing my age – who was a big lummox who had some kind of chip in his head that immobilized him every time there was anything exciting happening, which kind of negated the impact of his size and power somewhat. You want McAvoy to start knocking seven bells out of everybody, but he’s not that kind of fellow.
However, McAvoy’s bashful fortitude is offset by the presence of his boss, Detective Superintendent Trish Pharoah who is funny and brash, and also, the magnificently unpleasant Colin Ray. McAvoy’s quiet investigation runs parallel with a more thunderous storyline about an unknown party’s brutal takeover of the city’s cannabis factories. Ray’s stressful command of that drugs investigation is one of the joys of the book. Note to Mark: give us more Colin Ray.
So there’s a lot to enjoy in Original Skin. There’s a real sense of location, the dialogue is often funny as hell, and the denouement is very satisfying. Mark uses his occasional moments of violence sparingly. Despite its dark nature, there’s a lot of light and shade, a lot of compassion, in this novel. And like all the best writers, he knows that although the story draws you in, it’s the characters who will keep you coming back. It’s also why the telly people are sniffing around – a McAvoy series is in development.
But I have one small moan. Mark perhaps likes to pull the trigger on a nice bit of prose where a bit of pace would be just the ticket. Like many other recent crime novels, I found Original Skin probably about 50 pages too long.
Thanks to Quercus Books for the review copy. I’m happy to say that David Mark will be doing one of our Intel interviews next week. You’ll deffo want to know what happens when he sits down to write, you really will. See you there.