Book review: Cold Bones by David Mark

Cold Bones - David Mark
*****


Like the last DS McAvoy case, Scorched Earth, there's a lot of joining up of dots to be done in Cold Bones. Since we're talking about the Humberside police here with Hull as a major shipping and fishing port, that means that those dots can travel to a lot of far-flung places that make them difficult to connect. There's a particularly difficult geographical and historical connection to be made in the rather grim case (aren't they all?) that DS Aector McAvoy and his boss Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh have to deal with in two separate locations. one in Hull and the other in Iceland, but that's the least of the obstacles standing in their way.

It's Pharaoh who is doing the long-distance travelling this time, a highly sensitive matter whose details haven't been shared with anyone on the Humberside force - not her closest friend, colleague and confidante, McAvoy and not even Area Commander David Slattery. A body has been found in a frozen bay that has connections to a suspected serial killer who may also have struck in places as wide apart as Baltimore, Oslo, Nova Scotia and Le Harve. Even more disturbing is the fact that the latest victim, found in the sea at Skagi Peninsula off Iceland, has enough breath in them to utter just one word when discovered - "McAvoy".

He might know nothing about what Trish Pharaoh is investigating in Iceland, but acting Detective Inspector McAvoy is able to figure out a few possible connections himself when an old lady is found frozen dead in the bath of her cottage. Enid Cappell was a bit of a busy-body, a former social worker who it seems lately has been working with a journalist to report on some old mysteries, rumours and secrets associated with the local fishing community. McAvoy quickly picks up that some of the writing and investigating she has done into the fishing history of Hull is is connected to one particular boat, the Blake Purcell, lost at sea off Iceland's Skagi Peninsula in 1970, taking with it a number of the city's well-known trawlermen. There are incidents surrounding the sinking however that others would prefer remained forgotten and never investigated.

Cold Bones is well-named as it's a common theme that connects deaths and murders in a closed community over a period of time, the secrets interred with their bones. The relevance of Hull, with its history and fishing industry, its connections with cold places like Russia and Iceland, is once again a return to the distinguishing feature of David Mark's DS McAvoy thrillers. The murders in Cold Bones are seeped in the history and associated fishing imagery of the place, from the fishing hooks used by a vicious killer to the literal and metaphorical tides that can unexpectedly bring back the past and wash up old secrets.

So what's familiar about Cold Bones and what's new as far as it being a DS McAvoy novel is concerned? Well, it has the familiar strength of theme, purpose and characterisation, which is inextricably tied up by the insightful writing with the mood and history of its Hull setting. There's not any particular new developments in characterisation, the revelations about Aector's background that came out in Scorched Earth are briefly noted at one point but not really touched upon here, but they still simmer and feed into the work in other subtle ways relating to family. The creation, definition and behaviours of McAvoy, Roisin and Trish however remain strikingly original.

What is perhaps new in Cold Bones is the way the secondary characters, their own personal lives, problems and secrets also feel very real and weave into the fabric of the story. Old people feature prominently in the novel and not just as figures trying to keep a historical crime secret and under wraps; the whole idea of history and tradition is tied up in their lives. In that respect, dementia - which is another motif that runs through the book - also ties into the loss of history and tradition; the past is slowly being forgotten, wiped away by time and the passing of a generation, but the memory of it, and the consequences of things that happened in those times still remains deep within the cold bones of the community.

That is perhaps what is really new about Cold Bones and what you will find is also a distinguishing feature of David Mark's writing. It's not so much the international angle that connects Hull to the world outside or even the Icelandic aspect to the case, what Marks reveals always goes much deeper than that and to a more universal level of observation and revelation. Everyone has their family histories and when combined, those histories take on a social aspect. And when there's something bad in there, it gets into the bones, and spreads like a disease. McAvoy and Pharaoh will once again look to find a cure - and McAvoy will no doubt take a heavy battering in the course of events - but the barriers placed in their way from above and from influential voices in the community suggest that the whole body may be too corrupt to entirely cut the tumour out.

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