Written by David Mark — We crime fiction lovers have a host of heroes. Whether it be Holmes or Hole, Rebus or Rhymes, our world is populated with canny crime fighters. In fact, our bookshelves and e-readers are packed to the gunwales with them.
But we’re a friendly bunch, and I know we’ll welcome a newcomer to the fold. He’s big, he’s brooding, he’s Scottish, he’s a Detective Sergeant based on the mean streets of Hull, and his name is Aector McAvoy. Heroically enough, Aector is the Gaelic for Hector, and he’s the creation of new writer on the block, David Mark. A very fine creation he is too, and no less than Val McDermid has given The Dark Winter the thumbs up here on Crime Fiction Lover.
Mark is a former crime reporter who has turned his hand to fiction, basing his debut novel in an area he covered for many years as a Yorkshire Post jounalist. It’s a beat I know pretty well too, having worked for the rival Hull Mail for a number of years, and I have to say his portrait of the city itself and the wider Humber region is spot on.
It’s a few days before Christmas, and Aector and his son Fin are enjoying a hot drink in a city centre cafe while Aector’s wife Roisin does some last-minute gift shopping. They are sitting opposite Holy Trinity church, where a festive service is in progress, and sharing a bit of dad and lad quality time when the peace is shattered by screams coming from the church. Aector races to the scene and collides with a man, clad all in black, running from the church and carrying a machete.
A young acolyte has been butchered on the altar. As the murder investigation begins and the victim’s story unfolds, it becomes clear that Daphne Cotton was no ordinary teenager. Daphne was the only member of her family to survive when her village was targeted by a murderous group of soldiers in Sierra Leone. She was adopted by a Hull couple and brought to the UK to rebuild her life. Now she is dead, but why was she targeted?
As the first officer on the scene, Aector is eager to get involved but a call from the Assistant Chief Constable sends him instead on a death call, to tell the wife of a prominent member of the police authority that her brother Fred has died. The former trawlerman was taking part in a TV documentary in Icelandic waters when he disappeared – now his body has been found floating in a lifeboat. And what’s even stranger is that Fred died close to where his former vessel went down 40 years ago, killing everyone on board but him. There’s a vague pattern emerging. But as the strange killings continue, is Aector the man to put all the pieces together?
It can be tricky to get to know a leading character in a first novel, but Mark pulls it off with aplomb. AS you read you’ll be drip-fed Aector’s backstory so subtly that you’ll feel as if you’ve known him for years. Unusually for a crime fiction hero, he is madly in love with his wife, spends time with his family and drinks in moderation. But don’t let that put you off, because Aector McAvoy is complex, intriguing and strangely appealing. There’s a fine supporting cast too, led by McAvoy’s boss, the superbly conceived Trish Pharaoh. Plus, it’s about time less fashionalbe areas like Hull featured came to prominence in cracking crime novels.
We’re promised another Aector McAvoy story next year. I, for one, hope he’ll be around for many books to come.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars