Moody and atmospheric, David Mark’s The Dark Winter is set in Hull, a dying port city in Yorkshire, England. Enigmatic, hulking Highlander Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy has garnered a reputation for exposing a corrupt CID unit, bearing the physical scars of his apprehension of a killer, his survival and the extent of the departmental fallout a matter of common curiosity among coworkers. McAvoy’s uneasy fit in the department since the events is ameliorated by his loving relationship with his pregnant wife and young son.
The story opens with the inexplicable death of an old seaman, the lone survivor of the infamous Dark Winter forty years earlier when four trawlers were lost in a few days. Soon after the seaman’s death, a young black girl in Hull—the survivor of her family’s genocide in Sierra Leone—is brutally stabbed during a church service. McAvoy is just outside the building with his young son when the murderer flees the church. The detective finds himself directly in the killer’s path, only the first of his encounters with a man whose motives make no sense to frustrated investigators.
Under his superior (acting Detective Sergeant Trish Pharaoh, a provocatively powerful woman attempting to acclimate to McAvoy’s independent methods), Aector begins to sense a pattern, albeit one with no obvious links. Other victims fall prey: a man burned to death in a Hull residence, a local woman attacked in a pub by the knife-wielding assailant, another situation in which McAvoy grapples with the suspect only to lose him again: “Today he held a killer by the throat and let him go.”
Balancing McAvoy’s police instincts and his history in the department (in spite of Pharaoh’s encouragement) with a strong intuition about the killer’s motivation and a loving home life, the detective experiences little respite from the rigors of the investigation. Given the bizarre nature of the murders and the somber, atmospheric decay of Hull, The Dark Winter is eerily threatening. The larger-than-life McAvoy is often the only character who offers any hope for resolution in an increasingly politicized case as superiors, reacting to public pressure, demand closure. McAvoy’s instincts tell him the answer is elsewhere, even though a frustrated journalist has become the prime focus.
In a bleak setting replete with dramatic physical confrontations and violent murders, McAvoy’s tender relationship with his wife informs a novel of visual and psychological impact. The broken mind of a killer wreaks destruction in a place already devastated by economics and the attrition of time, a way of life relegated to the failing memories of families who cling tenaciously to a once-thriving port. A gentle giant, McAvoy treads this landscape cautiously, with the passion of a true detective.