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David Mark

PAST LIFE . . . Between the covers

PAST LIFE HEADERE

I won’t repeat my spiel about coming late to an established series (which I seem to do all too often), so here’s a brief account of where we are in Past Life. Aector McAvoy is a Detective Sergeant working in Hull, on the north bank of the Humber Estuary. He is married to Roisin, who is of Irish Traveller heritage, and they have two children, Fin and Lilah. His boss is Detective Superintendent Trish Pharoah. McAvoy is a bear of a man, born to a Scottish crofter family. He is capable of great violence, but is fundamentally a gentle soul but perhaps too conciliatory and thoughtful for his own good. Author David Mark tells us:

“He is not a man at ease with the world or his place in it. He feels permanently displace; dislocated – endlessly cast as an outsider. He’s still the lumbering red-haired Scotsman who left the family croft at ten years old and has been looking for home ever since.”

Screen Shot 2021-10-10 at 20.06.34The story begins with a murder, graphically described and, at this point in the review, it is probably pertinent to warn squeamish readers to return to the world of painless and tidy murders in Cotswold manor houses and drawing rooms, because death in this book is ugly, ragged, slow and visceral. The victim is a middle-aged woman who makes a living out of reading Tarot cards, tea leaves, crystal balls and other trinkets of the clairvoyance trade. She lives in an isolated cottage on the bleak shore of the Humber and, one evening, with a cold wind scouring in off the river, she tells one fortune too many.

When McAvoy and Pharoah arrive at the scene they find the ravaged remains of Dymphna Lowell, and understand why one or two of the police officers first to respond to the 999 call have parted company with their last meal. Trish Pharoah has seen worse, but then she has been a regular onlooker at grisly tableaux that demonstrate the depths that humans can sometimes plumb. She is the wrong side of middle age, but not going gently into that good night. She has four daughters and nursed her husband – although he was an absolute bastard – day and night as he took a long time to die from an aneurism.

As McAvoy and Pharoah hunt the killer, the back-story is crucial and it needs to be explained. Roisin’s family have been engaged in a decades-long blood feud with another clan, and there has been copious amounts of blood shed along the way. Part of this history involved Roisin saving McAvoy from an infamous killer nicknamed ‘Cromwell’. Cromwell was then gruesomely punished by Roisin’s father, she and McAvoy fell in love and married, but the savage murder of Roisin’s aunt – another fortune teller – cloaks the narrative like a shroud. Roisin is a woman not at ease with the world or herself:

Screen Shot 2021-10-12 at 10.29.37“She has found herself some mornings with little horseshoe grooves dug into the soft flesh of her palms. Sometimes her wrists and elbows ache until lunchtime. She sleeps like a toppled pugilist: a Pompeian tragedy. She sees such terrible things in the few snatched moments of unconsciousness.”

When the satanic Cromwell strikes hard at McAvoy’s family, the big man goes off the radar and hunts down the killer. David Mark (right) gives us what we think is the climax as McAvoy and Cromwell go head to head in a terrifying and violent¬† battle in a disused WW1 sea fort, but just as we relax and think “job well done”, there is a plot twist that few will see coming, and we learn that there is a final trauma to be endured by the McAvoy family.

This is a dark, brooding novel, with more than a touch of Derek Raymond-esque nihilism and despair but, like his late, great Noir predecessor, David Mark also gives us searing honesty and compassion. Past Life is published by Severn House and is available now in hardback, and as a KIndle in November.

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2020 . . . Best Thriller

Blurb

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If you want to read the full review of each novel, just click the title. The review should then open in a different window

THE SECOND WIFE by REBECCA FLEET

THRILLER 4

POSSESSED by PETER LAWS

THRILLER 3

BORROWED TIME by DAVID MARK

THRILLER2

BEST THRILLER 2020
OFF SCRIPT by GRAHAM HURLEY

Screen Shot 2020-12-11 at 19.20.17If you were to ask the man or woman browsing in the books aisle at ASDA or TESCO to name a distinguished living British crime fiction writer, I would wager that few would come up with name Graham Hurley. , Rankin, James, McDermid and Child might get a mention – and all credit to them – but Graham Hurley is something of a connoisseur’s choice. I’ll be quite up front – I love his writing. The Joe Faraday novels were just wonderful, but then Mr H killed him off. He kept us entertained with the Jimmy Suttle stories which were, in a way, Faraday novels without Faraday, but then Jimmy disappeared. Hurley’s latest creation is not a copper. She is a 39 year-old actress with a brain tumour, and a back story that involves a very ‘dodgy geezer’, a former criminal ganglord called Hayden Prentice. Yes, there is plenty of crime, and an abundance of thrills but, above all, there is Hurley’s superb ability to create memorable characters and tell a mesmerising story. Click the author’s picture (above right) to learn more.

Thriller best

BORROWED TIME . . . Between the covers (click for full screen)

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The latest novel from David Mark, Borrowed Time, is seriously dark stuff. There were times when I felt I had entered the nightmare world of distorted humanity, shocking violence and suffering that was distilled into a kind of bleak poetry by Derek Raymond in such masterpieces as I Was Dora Suarez and The Devil’s Home On Leave.

BT coverAdam Nunn is a decent enough fellow, but like all of us, he has made his mistakes. He lives with Zara, a struggling restaurant owner, but has a child of his own, Tilly, who lives with Grace, her mother. Adam has discovered that he is adopted, and has employed a fairly seedy private investigator to try to trace his birth parents.

When the investigator is found dismembered in a spot notorious for being the burial ground of many victims of old Essex gang wars, Adam is about to have an unpleasant surprise. On the (severed) hand of Larry Paris was a scrawled National Insurance number – and it is Adam’s. The police think they have an instant suspect, but after a bruising initial encounter, they realise they have nothing with which to tie Adam to the killing

Adam Nunn lives in Portsmouth. And it is not a particularly fragrant place:

” A city drawn in charcoals and dirt: a place of suet-faced pensioners, of teenagers in baby clothes; of egg-shaped women and puddled men, big middles and conical legs.”

His search for the truth about his identity leads him inexorably to an Essex gangster family, the Jardines. Alison is the daughter of ailing patriarch, Francis. She runs the firm and is not a woman much given to empathy with some of her Essex contemporaries:

“She likes to imagine all those golden-blond, size eight bitches, sobbing as they inject Botox into their foreheads and splurge their life savings on surgeries and rejuvination procedures; their skin puckering, spines beginning to curve, veins rising like lugworms on their shins and the backs of their age-mottled hands.”

Neither is Alison’s son Timmy someone for whom she has a great deal of conventional maternal affection.:

“He’s an ugly, rat-faced little specimen who, at twenty years old, has yet to master the art of having a conversation without thrusting both hands down his jogging trousers and cupping his gonads. She loves him, but not in a way that makes her want to touch him, look at him, or spend time breathing him in.”

Eventually Adam learns who his mother was, but the nature of his conception and the fate of his mother is just the start of the nightmare. The identity of his father is only revealed after a journey through the inferno, the flames of which threaten to consume him along with everyone else he holds close.

David markAlong the way, Mark (right) introduces us to some loathsome individuals who have all played their part in Adam Nunn’s terrible back story. There’s local politician Leo Riley, for example:

“He knows that cash is an aphrodisiac. Power enough to loosen any pair of knickers. And fear a crowbar to stubborn legs.”

Alison’s fearsome minder, Irons, is a creature from hell:

“His face is a butcher’s window, all pink and red, meat and offal: a rag-rug of ruined flesh. he still has to apply lotions five times a day to stop his cheeks tearing open when he laughs. Not that he laughs often. He’s a quiet man. Hasn’t engaged in much chit-chat since the brothers went to work on him with a bayonet, a blowtorch and a claw hammer.”

There is compassion within the pages of Borrowed Time, but it is in short supply.¬† We don’t just glimpse the worst of people, we come face to face with them, and close enough to smell their rancid graveyard breath. This is a brilliant and sometimes moving piece of storytelling, but within its pages the only redemption comes in death. Borrowed Time is published by Severn House and is out now.

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