Sex, violence and misogyny – a losing combination…
When 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.
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.