Book review: Borrowed Time by David Mark
I don't know why I let David Mark do this to me. I know bad things happen to bad people in his DS McAvoy series (Scorched Earth, Cold Bones) and other standalone books (Still Waters, A Rush of Blood), but good people are by no means immune from the horrors of crime and gang violence in his books either. I just wish he wouldn't make his characters so relatable and likeable in a way that leaves you approaching each development in each tense chapter of Borrowed Time, his latest standalone thriller, with a sense of trepidation about the danger they seem to have unwittingly got themselves into.
As far as Adam Nunn goes it seems to all go very wrong when he simply starts looking into his own origins, having discovered through an inadvertent comment from this Alzheimer's suffering father that he might have been adopted. Unfortunately the investigator and friend that he asked to look for his birth certificate has turned up in Dedham Vale, also known as Dead Mans Vale, an Essex location far away from Adam's home in Portsmouth. It's a location notoriously used by the Jardine family, a remnant from the old days of the East End gangs, a place where they would traditionally bury their problems, weighted down in water. Alison, the daughter currently in charge of the family operation thinks she's being set up and aims to fight back. There's going to be big trouble and it looks like Adam is going to be in the middle of it.
You have to sympathise with Adam. He isn't exactly an innocent, he's actually of a bit of a screw up with a history of unfortunate run-ins with the law and a few family complications that he probably hasn't handled all that well, but he's not unlikeable. It's not him you are worried for so much - although it looks like big trouble is heading his way - as much as it looks like those close to him are going to be collateral damage in this. They all seem lovely too, trying to help Adam, not realising what they are getting into. He has a young daughter, a new girlfriend and gets on well with her kids. You'd hate to see anything terrible happen to them but it doesn't look good when they make inquiries on his behalf, not so much opening up a can of worms as poking a stick around in a barrel of snakes.
As usual however, Mark has a way of living up to your expectations while at the same time overturning them. Halfway through Borrowed Time it seems like the main mystery over the identity of his parentage has been solved, even though Adam is not entirely pleased with what he finds out. By this stage however, Mark starts to make matters a little more nuanced and ambiguous and you begin to see characters in a different and more rounded way; the innocent maybe not so innocent, the apparent villains having something of a heart and a conscience, at least as far as looking after their own. It doesn't stop you anticipating that there is worse to come though.
What keeps you reading through the terror of never knowing what is coming next - although knowing David Mark the ending is almost guaranteed to be a major bloodbath - is the usual reliance on this author's ability to develop characters you can recognise and relate to in a gut wrenching way. The writing and dialogue flow with wit and insight, leading you inexorably down a path that is difficult to predetermine, other than for the fact that you know it's heading towards deep deep trouble and there's no way of stopping it coming. This is another terrific work from one of the best crime writers in the UK at the moment.