Written by David Mark — DS Aector McAvoy is the best thing to come out of Hull since the M62 motorway. Come to think if it, you can add David Mark to that too. McAvoy ranks alongside Rebus and Harry Bosch in my list of favourite series characters, and while the other two have been around for many years, the Hull-based Scotsman is merely on book seven.
What makes Aector so special? His name for one, as strange and unusual as the crimes he seeks to solve. Then there’s his demeanour. He’s big and bumbling and prone to blushing, but with a mind as sharp as a whip and an unerring ambition to do the right thing. He’s a family man, who loves his wife Roisin and two children to the point of adoration – and although he may try to hide it, the same applies to his boss Trish Pharoah.
We’ve followed Aector’s journey since the very beginning, with Dark Winter, which was titled The Dark Winter when we reviewed it in New Talent November back in 2012. He wasn’t fully formed back then, and neither was his relationship with Detective Superintendent Pharoah. In this book I think Mark hits his stride to perfection, the snappy, so-realstic-you-can-hear-it-in-your-head dialogue even managing to raise a smile in a darkly shocking tale that is destined to take our hero to the very edge.
Scorched Earth begins in a pretty dark and despondent place – The Jungle migrant camp in Calais, where a young refugee finds a bloody way to escape the squalor. Manu’s actions are fuelled by revenge and they are the first steps on a journey that leads both him and you as the reader into desperate danger.
There’s drama aplenty on British soil too, as a young girl and her riding companion are ambushed on a gentle horse ride in the Lincolnshire countryside. The youngster is Primrose Musgrave, daughter of Joel, a biosciences expert and ‘new-agro consultant’ for a company that offers advice on future farming technologies to developing countries. An all-round good egg, then? Well, his reaction to the disappearance of his daughter’s riding companion, Crystal Heathers, may well set off a few alarm bells. Like many of the characters which populate this tale, Joel isn’t everything he might seem…
Meanwhile, across the Humber in Hull, Aector is making a visit to a care home, to see an old friend. Former police officer Perry Royle might be in his 80s but he’s still on the ball and what he reveals leads McAvoy to call at a run-down house opposite. There’s no one at home, except that is, for a dead man, suspended two feet off the floor, his back attached to the plaster, nails in his hands and a long, thin, metal object skewering him in place. Could it be the work of the Headhunters, the ruthless gang of criminals who have had previous with encounters with McAvoy and Pharoah.
The discovery leaves Perry in hospital and McAvoy heading over the river to rural Lincolnshire when a search of the deserted property leads to the discovery of a mystery till receipt. It’s the first piece in a mighty convoluted puzzle which will have you gasping, chuckling and maybe even wiping away a tear or too (there must have been something in my eye)…
McAvoy fans will be delighted to meet some old familiar characters here such as DC Helen Tremberg and DCI Shaz Archer, but there are new faces too, with enthusiastic trainee DC Angela Verity my favourite of the newcomers. McAvoy, has had more than his fair share of heart-stopping moments over the years, with Scorched Earth adding to that tally. Mark certainly knows how to set up a moment of high drama. And they don’t come much higher than the Humber Bridge, the setting for a pivotal scene that’ll have you holding your breath and biting your nails.
Not a book for the faint-hearted as there’s some pretty graphic violence within its covers, but that’s tempered by the sheer exuberance of the cast of living, breathing characters and writing that’ll have you shaking your head in admiration. This is definitely the best McAvoy novel yet. Grab a copy as soon as you can!
CFL Rating: 5 Stars