Original Skin (Aector McAvoy 2) by David Mark

Sex, violence and misogyny – a losing combination…

😦

original skinWhen Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy finds a lost phone, the images and messages on it lead him to believe that a death that had been ruled a suicide may in fact have been a murder. The victim is a flamboyantly tattooed young man who was clearly involved in the dangerous game of arranging sexual encounters with strangers. The reader knows a little more than Aector since the prologue shows us the murder taking place and tells us that the murderer is also hunting down another possible victim, Simon’s friend Suzie. Meantime, a drugs war is kicking off on the streets of Hull, involving Vietnamese drug lords and the brutal torture and killings of competitors.

This book seems to be getting a generally positive reaction so I’m afraid my review will be swimming against the tide – again. Hard-hitting and noir seem to be becoming synonymous with graphic and sleazy in current crime-writing, so Mark is probably on track for major success. There’s no doubt that he has the ability to tell his story well. The drugs plot seems a bit pointless, thrown in purely to give a reason for some pretty graphic descriptions of violence and torture (including of course the obligatory tortured naked woman incident), but the murder plot is quite original, intriguing and brought to a reasonably satisfying, if unlikely, conclusion.

The character of Aector is fairly poorly drawn, I felt. Pretty much all that we learn about him is that he is the one moral man in the whole of Hull, he’s tall, blushes a lot and loves his wife. We know these things because we are told them repeatedly (and boy, do I mean repeatedly) but there’s no real depth to the characterisation. The other male officers are mainly as violent and lacking in morals as the criminals, and behave in ways that wouldn’t be tolerated in even the laxest of police departments and would certainly destroy any chance of a prosecution holding up in court. In Hull, apparently violence is the main male currency.

The women on the other hand come straight from the Misogyny section of Central Casting, and their currency is sex. The stay-at-home wife – foul-mouthed (as are all the women) but great in the kitchen and better in the bedroom; the female boss who sexually harasses her subordinates; the female detective who dresses like a hooker and hopes that allowing suspects to look down her blouse while she sexily crosses and uncrosses her legs will tempt them into confession; and Suzie, the nymphomaniac (literally), whose sexual fantasies and activities, while admittedly integral to the sleazy plot, are graphically described in endless gratuitous detail. There isn’t a woman character who is not defined in one way or another by her sexuality.

David Mark Photo: Nicola East
David Mark
Photo: Nicola East

But if you can overlook all this and ignore the constant use of the foulest of foul language, it must be admitted that the story flows fairly well and, despite my feeling that Suzie’s story is mainly there to provide an excuse for titillation, Mark manages to make her the most believable and sympathetic character in the book.

So overall, as sex, violence and misogyny go, this is pretty well-written sex, violence and misogyny. But not to my taste – I see no reason why crime-writing has to wallow in the gutter. There are plenty of authors out there who can tell a hard-hitting story without descending to this level. 4 stars for the basic flow of the writing and the plotting of the murder element – less 1 for the gratuitous foul language, 1 for the unnecessary and repeated violence and torture, and 1 for the constant soft-porn sex. All adds up to a 1-star rating for me. And I haven’t even deducted anything for the misogyny…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

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47 thoughts on “Original Skin (Aector McAvoy 2) by David Mark

  1. FEF, the professor is proud of you! Firstly, because it’s a stellar ripio. And, secondly, because you’re going against the tide. 😀 Lovely.

    Can’t say the professor would ever read this. I mean, his shirt says everything.

  2. Oh dear, dearie me. This feeds into ALL my prejudices about any genre writing – you get those who are pedestrian and never see beyond the rock bottom formulae, whether its heaving bosoms, a lake of splattered dismembered corpses, aliens with 70,000 toes or a veritable army of vampires on every street corner. (of course good writers are writers who happen to write a particular category of book, I’m talking about the people who are genre (any) not writers, who feed my prejudices as above)

    Actually………..I take that back about the 70,000 toes. That MIGHT just be a new invention. Am off to start my pulp SF book Provisional title ‘Jules Verne and the journey to the centre of the 70,000 toes under the sea’

    Must go, I can see my next door neighbour vampire is in the garden and seems to be trying to plant a collection of limbs. Her 70,000 bosoms are heaving with the effort. Am just going to get my garlic cloves and see if I can get her to leave, pronto before she crushes the snowdrops

    • I can cope with a level of formulaic stuff (or I wouldn’t be able to read so much crime) but I worry about the ‘normalisation’ of extreme behaviour and language. This book uses our favourite c-word repeatedly and casually – I don’t know if the author mixes in circles where that’s the norm, but it still isn’t the norm here (Glasgow, forsooth!) especially in front of women, nor is it yet the norm in most crime-writing. In this book, it’s usually the women using the foulest language though…methinks he may have a problem with women!

      I think your book sounds as if it has potential but you must make sure it includes at least three vampires and a zombie…otherwise it will never sell!

      • I rather fear as if we have become brutalised into needing stronger and stronger stimulation. Inevitably the crafted writer will still be able to deliver the telling shock-punch by being sparing and lethally precise with their blows to the reader’s sensibilities. The crass will do it by bludgeon blows every few lines.

        No one wants the prissiness of something like the Hays code in writing (or films) and there are absolutely times when calling a spade is bloody shovel may absolutely be the best way to do it, but if every time someone refuses to call a spade a spade and can only call it a bloody bloody very very bloody, dripping with gore shovel, one begins to long for someone to call that spade an implement for the penetrating, lifting, digging and turning of soil, mulch, humus rich substance lying above a deeply buried central core of molten lava. Okay back to the everyday story of vampires

        • Yes, I’m not a believer in state censorship (mostly) but I’m a great believer in self-censorship. If a writer can’t be shocking except by using that sort of language, or by lingering lovingly over constant and unlikely descriptions of sex and violence, then I feel they’re in the wrong job. The likes of Rankin or Reginald Hill can be just as hard-hitting, and while they both use swearie words from time to time they use them effectively rather than for effect. And show more interest in the innards of people’s minds than the innards of their bodies…

  3. FictionFan – No, this certainly doesn’t sound like one for me. Mind, I like it when a detective actually has a good marriage. But the rest? You go right against the tide; I’ll be right there with you.

    • Yes, I like a detective with a stable relationship too, and parts of their relationship were believable. But other parts were just ridiculous fantasy stuff – and male fantasy at that! However, I’m sure there will be lots of positive reviews of the book to offset mine. I must say I’m worried about the levels of sex, violence and language that seem to be becoming the norm in crime at the moment…

  4. So you won’t be looking for the third due out next month, then? I have to say I’ve enjoyed the first two in this series, but then again one of the things that really appeals to me is the narrative voice and we often disagree about that. Thanks goodness there are enough books out there for it not to matter when we hit one we can’t appreciate.

    • Haha! No, I spotted it on NG and decided against! I expect the publishers will blacklist me anyway, after this… 😉

      Yes, I’m definitely finding a lot of crime is going in a direction that’s not for me at the moment. The writing in this book was fine – above average, in fact. But the subject matter and the repeated use of foul language, particularly the c-word which I find extremely objectionable, meant it was never going to work for me. I wouldn’t spend time with someone who spoke like that in real life, and don’t want to spend much time reading it either. Oh well, at least we agree about Jane Casey! 😉

  5. Phew! Somehow, I don’t think the publisher will be asking you to review any more of David Mark’s books any time soon. I know quite a lot of policemen (and women), and none of them behaves like this, certainly not when dealing with the public, so I find it hard to suspend my disbelief enough to read this sort of stuff, however good the plot. So not for the TBR pile, which is down to 69. Yay!

    • I’ll probably be blacklisted soon! But since he’s piling up good reviews elsewhere, I don’t suppose mine will make much difference. I think the other reviewers must have had different copies to me, with the most offensive bits edited out. That would have left a lot of blank spaces though…

      69?? Impressive!! I’ll have to see if I can add to it soon…

  6. from Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens: Ralph Nickleby, in meeting with his brother’s
    widow, destitute now, belittles his late brother and makes her fate look dour indeed. ” . . .
    he had struck on one of those little jarring chords in the human heart (Ralph was well
    acquainted with its worst weakneses, though he knew nothing of its best.”)

    Methinks David Mark knows only the worst weaknesses of humankind. But, hey!
    he’s not worth our time then, is he? Onward (and upward!)

    • It always surprises me that some authors never seem to be able to see that the greats were great first and foremost because they wrote beautifully, even if about an ugly subject. I wonder who’ll still be being read in 100 years – Dickens or Mark?

      Thanks for the quote. 🙂

  7. Ugh. Though I did think the title was at least punny…. Wondering how much more people need of this type of story? But, hey, if one likes it, go for it. I won’t be reading it, so I thank you for your review!

    • Yes, I liked the title and the cover – shame about the pages though! I know – there’s a real trend in crime fiction towards this level of graphic sex and violence at the moment, but it’s not for me, I’m afraid.

    • Well, to be honest, I appear to be in a very small minority on this one – almost all the other reviews are positive. And maybe Sorrow Bound won’t concentrate so much on descriptions of sex…and maybe he’ll have stopped spraying the c-word around with such enthusiasm…

      Hehe! Wicked but true – it’s like the old saying that you grow to look like your dog – they seem somehow to end up looking like their books! 😉

  8. It is mystifying that in the second decade of the 21st century male writers can only perceive women as either prostitutes, nymphomaniacs or generally sexually deviant. Hollywood has the same problem. A few nights ago I saw the trailer of a new movie about a female killer and of course she is a lesbian. Personally, I hope his book fails to sell and maybe that will give the author some food for thought when he writes his next book. As always a great review.

    • Baffling. I keep thinking things are improving, and in the real world I really think they are. But crime/thriller writing just hasn’t caught up – they seem to think ‘strong women’ should be aping the behaviour of the worst of men. Odd. But sadly I expect his book will sell well – nearly every other review is positive, even reviews by other women. Again odd.

      • Very odd indeed. I wonder if some women are afraid of writing negative criticism in case they are perceived by men as raging feminists. Or they simply don’t see the problem.

        • I think there’s a good chance that’s the case – the fear of writing negative criticism, that is. I know when I post a review in Amazon that goes against the flow for any reason, I regularly get lots of comments from people agreeing with me, but who haven’t posted their own reviews. Of course, I also get the negative comments – which may be what puts people off from stating their opinions. Again – a reason I prefer blogging.

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