Cruel Mercy by David Mark – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Crime novels. They’re ten a penny, right? Walk into any bookshop and you’ll be confronted by hundreds of them, all covered in quotes proclaiming them to be the best thing since Agatha Christie.
So, how do writers make their work stand out from the crowd?
It can’t be easy – and there are lots of clichéd pitfalls to trip them up. Thankfully, David Mark can be proud of himself because he’s managed to avoid them all so far.
Usually, lead detectives in series (whether on TV or in books) are troubled souls with drink problems and/or relationship issues. But not DS Aector McAvoy, the gentle giant at the heart of Mark’s six novels.
The Scotsman is quiet, doesn’t drink much (a rather cosy Bailey’s is his favourite tipple) and is happily married to his Irish Traveller bride Roisin, the mother of his two chirpy young children.
Usually McAvoy plies his trade on the mean streets of Hull. But Cruel Mercy, the sixth of Mark’s tales featuring his adventures, takes him much further afield to New York. Yes, he’s a real fish out of water there. But then again, McAvoy never really seems to fit in anywhere. And that’s one of the reasons he’s so lovable. He’s just like all those who always feel as if they’re on the outside looking in.
McAvoy is on a mission for Roisin. He wants to find her wayward brother, who journeyed to the city with two friends who later turned up either dead or horrifically wounded after becoming involved in an illegal boxing bout.
“Pushes both himself and his readers”
As Mark’s fans will already be aware, McAvoy has an uncanny instinct for policing as well as a natural warmth that brings people to him. Here, he needs both as he navigates a world he knows little about in a city where he has no friends. Along the way he comes face-to-face with gangsters of various ethnicities.
For British writers, breathing new life into America’s underworld isn’t easy – it can too easily sound fake. However, Mark brings a freshness and authenticity to the characters and dialogue that makes you wonder where his inspiration came from. They don’t sound as if he’s merely overdosed on episodes of The Sopranos or the Godfather trilogy. It is as if he actually rubbed shoulders with some decidedly nasty folk.
However he’s managed it. The so-called king of the genre, Peter James, would do well to learn a few lessons from him – James too often seems to be coasting, while Mark wants to do something different that pushes both himself and his readers. He also excels at creating vivid pictures of places and atmospheres. So much so it makes you wonder why his books haven’t been snapped up by film or TV yet.
Despite the setting, Mark manages to keep his followers happy by finding a way to bring in McAvoy’s popular, no-nonsense boss Trish Pharoah. Although you are left wondering how she manages to be at his beck and call – have Hull’s criminals gone on hiatus now that the City of Culture has rolled into town?
But it scarcely matters. This is compelling stuff that newcomers and old fans alike will enjoy.