Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Taking Pity.
The scene of a brutal family murder in a church graveyard in 1966 hints at how inextricably the past is tied to an unfolding investigation of criminal enterprise in the northern city of Hull in Yorkshire. Detective Sergeant Trish Pharaoh and the Serious and Organized Crime Unit
face a rising body count of those resisting a takeover by the organized crime ring called the Headhunters, a new breed that operates with corporate-like efficiency--ruthless, brutal and bloody. Pharaoh is slowly picking up the pieces after the tragic end to a recent case.
The Humberside Police Force not only lost a few good officers; her best man, Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy,
is on sick leave after the bombing of his new home.
Currently residing in a hotel with his young son, Fin, Aector has not seen his wife, Roisin, or baby daughter, Lilah,
since the attack. Roisin’s life was threatened, and she was whisked away until it is safe for her to return. In despair, the hulking Scottish-born policeman is lost without his fiery Traveler wife, the emotional salve to a tortured soul grappling daily with the consequences of his actions as a detective. Thinking to get McAvoy an interesting albeit unproductive assignment, Trish has no idea what her temporarily-sidelined detective will discover when he begins searching through old records of a
50-year-old crime spree in 1966.
McAvoy is the heart of Mark’s intense, gripping series, a moral, loyal man with a wife who appreciates his extraordinary qualities. Trish Pharaoh acts in counterpoint to the detective she trusts implicitly--and holds back devastating secrets she refuses to share with him. Others Pharaoh works with have more complicated roles.
Politics and ambition infest the department, contemporary police work filled with new technology and the double-speak of those whose careers benefit from sound bites and quick turnarounds on cases that capture the public’s imagination. This is a fertile landscape for the Headhunters, who happily groom the occasional officer willing to barter inside information for money on the side: “Bodies are piling up. Castles are crumbling.”
Old characters return, veterans of cases explored in the previous novel, Sorrow Bound, which culminated with the destruction of Aector’s home and a brutal attack on his person. At the same time, a pivotal character, Detective Constable Helen Tremberg, realizes her secret love affair nearly cost her life and career. Though on suspension, Detective Chief Inspector Colin Ray has been lurking around the Headhunter investigation, leaking information to his former partner, the wily Shaz Archer, an ambitious and ruthless detective. But it is the introduction of two old-world crime figures--the legendary Francis Nock, now eighty-one, and his loyal muscle, Raymond Mahon--that add real texture to the novel and link an old-school crime boss to the evolution of crime in the age of technology. An impediment to the newcomers, Nock and his enforcer are critical targets, the last of the truly terrifying legends, not just upstart psychopaths. In his bid to protect Nock, Mahon has begun evening scores, convinced a long-neglected case is soon to break wide open, his only concern the safety of an old man succumbing to dementia: “Help save his life and I’ll give you mine.”
It’s a crowded field of criminal enterprise old and new, cops honest and corrupt, and McAvoy’s efforts to do a good job while awaiting Roisin’s return, trusting Pharaoh to keep her safe as promised. The scattered pieces of the puzzle in Taking Pity are numerous and complicated, Hull the nexus of a battle between factions, a police force devastated by tragedy, and Aector’s longing for the comfort of home and family. With Pharaoh and McAvoy as central figures, their very human exertions and failures make this tale both fascinating and appalling.
The juxtaposition of crime and honor and the brutal slaying of victims are a testament to the difficulties when feuds run deep and constant, eternal enemies good and evil staking a claim in Hull. Mark proves addictive, a provocative writer celebrating his protagonists while never shirking the base realities of crime and corruption. Though there is a temporary respite, new sharks are circling, unfinished business at hand.