Author David Mark gives his excellent protagonist, Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy of Hull, Yorkshire’s Humberside Serious and Organized Crime Unit, another outing (after The Dark Winter), the hulking Scots detective as out of place and grimly efficient as ever. A fish out of water in a declining port city riddled with drugs and poverty, his own department scandalized by corruption, Aector is a moral, compassionate man in a messy world. His only real desire is to bring criminals to justice and spend time with his family.
Though not a complicated character, to his immediate boss, DS Trish Pharaoh, Aector is either frustrating for inability to recognize humor, stunningly attractive in his innocence, or admirable for his tenacity and ability to solve crimes. His singleness of purpose will be critical in an evolving case in Hull, an ongoing takeover of the Vietnamese cannabis trade by a new set of players, men who freely use torture and violence to make their point. The media is alerted to the problem by Peter Tressider, the current Chairman of the Police Authority with future political ambitions. As the violence escalates, the department is involved in a number of scenarios, from a confrontation with angry Travelers to the firebombing of a police van during a raid and a vicious attack on Pharaoh by two Rottweilers.
In the midst of the chaos, McAvoy finds a discarded cell phone that leads him to another investigation with Pharaoh’s tacit permission, albeit off the grid. The detective attempts to navigate the murky world of sexual adventurers who communicate through social media, those who want to play on the dark side, indulging in every variety of anonymous sexual combinations. Unfortunately, the owner of the phone, a young man with an elaborate tattoo on his back, has died of autoerotic asphyxiation, labeled a suicide. The more Aector learns about the boy’s recent communications, the more he fears a homicide, not to mention the phone numbers of some high-profile politicians whose reputations would suffer from the association.
With wife Roisin as his touchstone and Pharaoh as his mentor on the job, McAvoy blunders through an unnerving few days, especially after Tricia is sidelined by the dog attack. A former Traveler, Roisin tries to leave Aector to his job, but a cranky new infant has driven both parents into a sleep-deprived nightmare that clouds McAvoy’s vision in juggling the demands of the drug raids and his secret investigation into a possible murder. That potential case is exacerbated by the danger to the dead young man’s best friend, Suzie, sporting a dramatic tattoo of her own and tenaciously seduced by a killer who lures her by text to a deadly assignation.
It’s a complicated, sophisticated plot, but Mark handles it deftly. McAvoy navigates the underground landscape of secret sex to find a perpetrator before another innocent is murdered, his wife’s connections to the Travelers forcing him into an “honor” confrontation and the rash of drug-related attacks requiring effective and immediate action. Mark pulls both cases together in a coup de grace that leaves Aector with a personal dilemma even as a killer is arrested and the new players on the drug scene are exposed. In the end, an essentially simple soul finds his strength in a job well done and the loving arms of his family. This is only the beginning for a fascinating new character on the literary scene.