Now that the dark nights have firmly set in and the clocks will soon be put back in the UK, you might want to get in the mood with The Dark Winter, the debut from David Mark. Set in a snowy Hull, two weeks before Christmas, Mark introduces his series copper Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy. Now don’t groan and click off the page at the thought of yet another series copper because McAvoy is rather charming, and Mark’s writing resides in the upper echelons.
The Dark Winter’s opening prologue is one of the best I have read in a long time.
An old man is aboard a vessel in the North Sea, about to mark the anniversary of a tragedy some 40 years before from which he was the only survivor. A journalist is interviewing him, and he is re-living the experience through his memories. As he tells his tale, specks of doubt mingle with the sea spray for this apparently very lucky man. He is emotional and needs a break. And on this occasion he doesn’t make it alive back to the shore, he is later found dead in a small, wooden boat.
McAvoy is a family man, out on a Christmas shopping trip in the centre of Hull. As they await the return of his wife, he forks chocolate cake into the mouth of his young son, Fin. But the scene suddenly changes. ‘What’s going on, Daddy?’ First his senses pick up blood, then he hears the screaming. His professional instinct kicks in and he runs across the square, looks back at his four year old son for a moment, before he sees the blade coming down…
Christmas arrives unusually early for the local mortuary. Before they can even think of victims of over-indulgence and prime time domestic tensions, they have three bodies in situ, all linked to police investigations. And a theme develops: those killed were once lone survivors.
What marks out this Mark derives from many levels: his characterisation is rich, producing real and vivid people; he connects us both to the living and the dead, drawing in an emotional commitment; his writing is lean, but with each carefully chosen word and phrase creating a blossom of picture over the sum of the parts.
In McAvoy we have a not-so-long-ago sidelined gentle giant of a cop, one whose building blocks consist of integrity and ethics before anything else, and which lead to the conflict embedded in him. When his instinct kicks in on the square, the guilt he later endures at leaving his son is palpable from the page.
In The Dark Winter, Mark also cuts a fine blade through the layers of society in Hull and its surrounds. Life is the same everywhere and if cut, one bleeds and hurts. Mark delivers this for an area that does not feature in a big way in fiction, one we normally see as a political football and usually only in the run-up to an election. But aren’t those less talked about places all the more intriguing when in the spotlight? They are here.
Even after a Harrogate Festival appearance in July, the modest Mark remained jittery about his work. He ought not to be. He ain’t slummin’ it but hummin’ it. If, after reading this, you read and enjoy then please let him know. The author needs to know how good he is.
Now, let’s have more of McAvoy and Hull!
[Note that when released in paperback in 2013 the title will be ‘Dark Winter’.]