Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review of Dark Winter by David Mark (Quercus, 2012)

DS Aector McAvoy is a cop obsessed with doing things the right way, both in his job and at home.  Whilst his young wife and child love his attention and doting, his work colleagues are not so keen on his unwavering rule following, especially after half of CID lost their jobs or were demoted and moved after he revealed some corruption.  McAvoy’s reward is a transfer to a new unit, the Serious and Organised Crime Unit, headed up by Trish Pharaoh, where he messes about with data and spreadsheets.  Two weeks before Christmas, McAvoy is sitting at a cafe with his young son in Hull when he hears a scream from the nearby church.  As he arrives he is knocked to the ground by a man fleeing.  Inside a young girl has been stabbed to death.  With Pharaoh away on a course, McAvoy starts to investigate.  However he is soon diverted by a senior manager who wants him to talk to the sister of a man recently lost at sea whilst filming for a documentary, and his boss returns to take over the case.  Then another person is killed.  Whilst his colleagues jump to conclusions, McAvoy finds a connection between the deaths, which if he’s right are the start of a set.  Following the rules, however, might not stop the deadly game and save the next victim’s life.

The undoubted strength of Dark Winter is the gentle giant, DS Aector McAvoy, a man who obsesses about doing the right thing.  Mark provides the somewhat hesitant cop with a nice blend of self-doubt, reflexivity and determination that often leaves him conflicted, but wanting to find a non-confrontational and just path forward.  And the case that he’s presented with -- a killer with a pattern -- being investigated by a divided team that is united in its suspicion and mistrust of McAvoy, provides a challenging puzzle in which the main character is somewhat isolated and his main raison d’être will not hold.  Indeed, the case troubles the simple of mapping of good and bad onto right and wrong -- sometimes rules need to be bent to deliver natural justice.  The case itself is somewhat familiar serial killer, police procedural fare that is held together by a set of somewhat unlikely relations, relies a little too much on plot devices, and drifts into melodrama towards the end.  It is, however, told in an engaging way and is elevated by McAvoy and his boss, Trish Pharaoh.  Overall, an enjoyable crime tale set in and around Hull.

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