DS Aector McAvoy and his boss, Trish Pharaoh, are under-pressure to reduce Hull’s crime stats. However, a vicious gang are taking over the cannabis trade from the Vietnamese and is leaving a trail of tortured bodies in their wake. And McAvoy suspects that the death of Simon Appleyard six months previously was not a suicide. Simon’s death has sent his best friend, Susie, into a low and she’s been trying to lose herself in sex parties and dogging, but as McAvoy hunts for clues Susie starts to suspect she might be the next victim. With internal tensions not helping matters, McAvoy, Pharaoh and their team try to bring both cases to a resolution.
Original Skin is the second book in the DS McAvoy series set in Hull. The strengths of the story are the characterisation and sense of place. Mark provides vivid descriptions of his characters, whom have emotional depth and resonance. McAvoy, in particular, is a likeable character – a gentle, somewhat naïve giant who likes to believe the best about people despite all the evidence to the contrary. He has an endearing relationship to his wife and kids and a nice chalk/cheese one with his sassy boss, Trish Pharaoh. And the other characters in the story are three-dimensional. There is also a clear sense of Hull and its contemporary history and problems. Where the story is weaker, however, is with respect to the plot. While the context is interesting – a battle within the cannabis trade, swinging and sex parties, and local political scandal – the tale relies extensively on a string of coincidences rather than good detective work. McAvoy always seems to be in the right place at the right time to find a clue or intervene or accidentally nudge pieces into plot devices into place. Moreover, the cannabis plot all but disappears in the last third of the book and is weakly and incompletely resolved. The result was a tale where I cared for the characters but didn’t believe in the story, which was a shame.