Scorched Earth by David Mark – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Gangsters, dodgy ex-coppers, a man on the make and a straight-arrow detective who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth… These are the ingredients for a riveting page turner, the seventh in the DS McAvoy series from ex-Yorkshire Post journalist David Mark.
As fans of his work will already know, Beverley-based Mark sets his novels in Hull and its environs, delving deep beneath the façade of the recent City of Culture to present the area’s darker side, a dangerous place where bad men reign supreme and nobody is safe.
Aector McAvoy, however, is a gentle Scottish giant thrust into this world and desperate to make a difference. Unlike many ‘tecs in the crime genre, he has a happy, settled home life – the only personal problems he faces tend to be self-doubt and how to deal with his ever-blushing cheeks.
“Twists, turns, red herrings”
This time it’s McAvoy himself who unearths the crime that kick-starts the entire novel; it is, however, like Alfred Hitchcock’s much-vaunted MacGuffin – a way to set up the story without being the centre of it.
Instead, the dead man is part of a bigger canvas involving Primrose, a kidnapped little girl, and the disappearance of Crystal, the young woman who has been teaching her to ride her beloved pony.
As is often the case, only McAvoy finds a link between the crimes, and so it’s up to him to unravel exactly what has happened – even his devoted boss, the plain-speaking Trish Pharoah (can we have a spin-off novel featuring her, please?), is convinced he’s lost his marbles this time.
Mark skilfully throws in comment about the part European big business has played in destabilising certain regions of Africa, offering surprising insights into how greed and racism can be hidden behind altruistic speeches.
Readers unfamiliar with Mark’s oeuvre may be slightly confused by the mention of characters and events from earlier entries in the series, but fans will lap up being ‘reunited’ with some familiar names and by the opportunity to learn more about McAvoy’s early days in the East Riding.
What remains baffling is why no production company has yet snapped up Mark’s work; he paints pictures with words that should be a joy to any director, while many chapters end with the kind of cliffhangers that work well before commercial breaks.
We live in hope that maybe, just maybe, Scorched Earth is the novel that inspires someone to take a chance.
‘Scorched Earth’ by David Mark is published by Hodder & Stoughton