Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Taking Pity.
In Taking Pity, author David Mark returns to his beloved Northern city of Hull and the battered life of DS Aector McAvoy of Humberside CID’s newly formed Serious and Organized Crime Unit. Aector is still reeling after the explosion that, three months previously, destroyed his home and injured his wife, Roisin, and also DC Helen Tremberg. On orders from his boss, DI Trish Pharaoh, Aector has been taking some time off while he ponders his next move. Forced to reside in a hotel and live out of carrier bags with only his young son Fin for company, Aector misses terribly Roisin
and baby daughter Lilah, who are now in witness protection because of threats to Roisin’s life from the infamous Headhunter syndicate.
Trish understands that her good friend is suffocating under the weight of death and separation. In order to remove her guilt for robbing Aector of his wife and child, she decides to break with the rules, letting McAvoy
loose on a new case. In an investigation that is full of ghosts and long-dried blood, Mark recounts the night of March 29th 1966,
at Saint Germain’s Church near Winestead. There Peter Cole, “childlike against the nighttime silence,” shot to death local businessman Clarence Winn, his wife, Evelyn, his son, Stephen, and
his daughter, Anastasia. Only the eldest Vaughan survived the massacre. Over twenty years later the wheels are set in motion, demanding that if Peter Coles is mentally fit, he should be tried on four counts of murder.
Initially dipping his toe into the investigation, Aector feels that the information Trish has sent him is a little too thin for a case of this size: things seem to be missing, there are gaps, and entire witness statements seem to have vanished from the files. PC John Glass, who was first at the scene, tells Aector that Peter Cole was sitting
on a gravestone cradling a shotgun and mumbling about how sorry he was. Cole, perhaps robbed of fifty years, is now an old man in a mental hospital. As Aector’s head spins with thoughts of corrupt coppers and forced confessions, another character appears out of Hull’s murky, violent past: underworld criminal Raymond Mahon.
More than fifty years later, psychotic Mahon remains a formidable foe, fiercely loyal and irreplaceable to old-time crime boss Francis Nock, who is now eighty-one and suffering from dementia. Mahon’s constant protection is the reason that Nock remained out of prison and has continued to rule the North East drug syndicates from the shadows. From an isolated lighthouse on the tip of the Norfolk coast, Mahon and Nock
spin their Machiavellian web. Mahon remains “the scariest and most brutal bastard” Nock has ever met. But even as Mohan continues to intimidate witnesses, “enjoying the crunch of bone,” he begins to look inside himself at the memory of a young man he once was: “twenty-nine and formidable, polished and dangerous.”
There’s a lot to digest in this novel: embattled McAvoy, who sees secrets and lies, shadows and conspiracies in the place of a simple truth; Trish Pharaoh, who knows she has screwed up, thinking she could manipulate the Headhunters without repercussions; and Helen Tremberg, who knows the Headhunters have something over her. Helen needs to bring them down, so she agrees to meet with DCI Colin Ray without a second thought. Although currently on suspension, Ray is only too willing to plunge into the investigation.
He’s sympathetic to Helen’s plight as she tries not to shudder when she hears the voice of a man who set her up and manipulated her--and who in all likelihood still possesses a video clip that could end her days in the police if ever released.
As the bloody death toll mounts, McAvoy scrambles to get back with Roisin, vindicate Arthur Cole, and uncover the real killer of the Winn family before the Headhunters get to him first. Mark gracefully shifts between McAvoy’s perspective and that of Pharaoh, Tremberg, Colin Ray, and Raymond Mahon, whose horrific physical disfigurement hints at the darker side of his sadistic psyche. Like McAvoy,
Mahon has a foot in both worlds, able to engage with certain corrupt cops and
double-crossing criminals alike. It is impossible to walk away from this book without mourning the ravaged McAvoy and Pharaoh and the rest of Mark’s characters as both old and new are left shattered once again by grief and frustration.
There is no better way to access the emotional core of a community than through tragedy, and Taking Pity certainly has enough tragedy to go around--particularly Mahon, who up strafing a violent, brutal, bloody path through Hull. With his rough combination of heroes and the villains, Mark steadily draws us into his ruthless world, its residents, its police force, and its criminal underworld, a world which is often at odds with itself as it fights to hold onto its eroding identity while resisting the changes that have already come.