Written by David Mark — The Dark Winter proved a best-selling debut for David Mark, grabbed a four-star review when we looked at it during New Talent November, and was on my top five crime reads of 2012. So this up and coming author had plenty to live up to with novel number two. With Original Skin, Mark shows he is up to the challenge as he renews our acquaintance with Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy and his boss Detective Superintendent Patricia Pharoah.
Original Skin should come with a complimentary bath towel and pair of wellies, because it seems to rain all the way through the story. Granted, it is set in Hull – a city which was badly hit by floods not so many years ago, but a little sunshine wouldn’t have gone amiss. The prologue opens as a tattooed young man is preparing himself for the arrival of a mysterious lover. Simon is gay, and enjoys playing out sexual fantasies with men he meets through websites. But this time the assignation will end in death. Thus are established two of the book’s recurring themes – body art and random sexual encounters. Both will prove important before the story reaches its bone-cracking conclusion.
Simon’s death is treated as suicide, but his fellow pleasure seeker and best friend Suzie is not so sure. Like Simon, she boasts extravagant tattoos, and now she too is being targeted by a mysterious ‘admirer’, met online. Addicted to the cheap thrills of casual sex, Suzie puts her worries to one side and agrees to a meet at a well-known dogging site. Could this prove a fatal decision? All of which seems a strange scenario in which to place the lugubrious Aector McAvoy, but when he finds a discarded mobile phone in the mud of the River Hull – a phone which turns out to belong to Simon – he has no choice but to get involved and dig deeper.
Book one established McAvoy as a crime fiction rarity. This self-effacing Scot is a big lump of a man, clumsy, prone to blushing and damn good at his job. He has a happy marriage and dotes on his wife and two young children. Aector is a superbly conceived character – and the perfect foil to the tough talking, take-no-prisonersPharoah. Their working relationship is developed further in Original Skin, and in the period when Pharoah is out of the picture, McAvoy seems to lose his already shaky self-confidence. Luckily, she isn’t missing for too long.
We’ve already established that this is a soggy book. It is also violent, seedy and dark, but that doesn’t stop it from being hugely enjoyable. The sex isn’t graphically described but is an important part of the plot. Two of the characters are pleasure seekers and, be warned, there is a dogging scene and a swingers party but – thankfully – the sex itself is left to the imagination. There are far more erotic crime books out there… but titillation was never on the author’s agenda.
David Mark is a former journalist and he really knows how to turn an entertaining phrase or two. He also has an uncanny descriptive eye and as a former Hull resident I was delighted to recognise faces and places from a city that so well drawn that it almost fills the role of an extra character. Dark Winter was a strong debut but Original Skin is even better. Mark is promising books three and four and I for one can’t wait to read them. Read our interview with him here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars