It’s hard for me to believe that The Dark Winter is David Mark’s debut novel; it doesn’t read like one. In fact, at first I thought it was the second book in a series because it refers back to an earlier incident that has shaped Aector McAvoy’s career.
But it’s not a second book, it’s just a fully formed character with a history and a family, colleagues who don’t trust him, a boss who’s on shaky ground, and a killer he confronts on the scene of the crime but doesn’t catch… twice.
Aector (pronounced something like Hector) is Scottish by birth but living and working in Hull, a port city in northern England. The incident in his past left him injured, a hero who brought down another cop and is therefore not universally beloved, with a new female boss put in place with low expectations and little support. McAvoy has to work around everyone else’s issues, then, when he suspects that a serial killer is a work, despite the fact that the murders are all different.
The first death is a horrible machete murder that takes place in church at Evensong, a young girl adopted from Sierra Leone. McAvoy heard the screams as he sat outside a restaurant with his son, and he left his four-year-old behind to race to the church, only to be throttled by the escaping killer. Perhaps the one flaw with this book is his wife’s reaction, consistent through a number of Aector’s missteps in the book: she instantly forgives him. Even taking into consideration that his impulse to save people is what introduced her to him in the first place, the mom in me just finds that whole scenario a little hard to believe.
Leaving his too perfect wife aside, McAvoy’s position as an outsider on his own team of police officers allows him to strike out on his own at a couple of different points, particularly when his colleagues are wrong. He follows his instincts, based on his genuine desire to help people, and he’s usually right (even if a step or two behind the killer).
There are several interesting characters beyond McAvoy, including his boss, DS Trish Pharaoh, and Tom Spink, a retired officer who acts as mentor at a key point in Aector’s investigation. The bad cops — not really evil but just lazy or determined to make an arrest, any arrest — are less well-developed, but made a good foil for McAvoy’s inherent need to stop the real bad guy.
My thanks to Eliza Rosenberry, publicist for Blue Rider Press/Penguin, for a review copy of The Dark Winter.