Original Skin by David Mark, the follow-up to The Dark Winter, is a gritty police procedural set in the north of England (available May 16, 2013).
Original Skin is the second novel in the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy series set in Hull, a historic port city that has seen more than its fair share of violent crime. Hull is currently overrun with Vietnamese drug lords, a seedy sexual underbelly, and itinerant “travellers.” So when McAvoy stumbles onto evidence that the suicide of a young “swinger” may in fact be a murder, it’s not really a surprise the case is not placed front and center.
McAvoy investigates the death of Simon Appleyard—the “suicide”—on the quiet, while still working his regular caseload. As he pulls at the loose threads of the suicide theory, he finds more than he bargained for. Government officials are affected. Corruption within the police force is exposed. Innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire of sexual cover-ups. And the killer isn’t done yet.
David Mark has accomplished something darkly graceful with Original Skin. By emphasizing the sexualized elements in this rain-covered city, he exposes both grit and vulnerability in his characters. There is no shying away in this novel.
The story opens with Simon Appleyard waiting for a lover. Simon is naked, on the floor, with his own murder weapon—a belt—already near his neck. The picture Mark creates is one of sex, yes, but also of humanity. Simon is certainly anticipating something sexually out-of-the-ordinary, but he’s also worried about whether or not he should have vacuumed the carpet. Should he have thrown away the pizza boxes? He’s been waiting patiently, but is getting bored and tells himself that he’ll wait five more minutes. The result of the juxtapositions of Simon’s intentional exposure and his thought process shows a complete person—which is important because this one section has to speak for Simon throughout the novel.
Another interesting choice that Mark makes regarding Simon’s death is how it is completely overshadowed once McAvoy comes in. The police department is suddenly overrun—they’ve got a new boss, they have violent offenders they need to catch, and a bunch of Gypsies (travellers) have lost control of their animals. The reader first meets McAvoy flat on his back, covered in mud and horse manure and dealing with sarcastic gypsies:
The stallion had only been a few feet away, tearing some daffodils from a grass verge of one of the side streets leading off the busy thoroughfare. McAvoy’s soft voice and gentle movements had allowed him closer to the animal than anybody else had managed since this unexpected carnival began, but as the beast swished its head back and forth, one of the passers-by had loudly shouted encouragement, and the burst of noise had spooked it, sending McAvoy and his expensive clothes into the dirt.
“Got a name?
“Me or the horse, sir, me or the horse?”
“Fecked if I know. Try Buttercup.”
The chaos confronting the police creates a distance between the murder and the investigation. It gives the story a sense of reality. Sometimes cases are not as clear-cut as their surface would suggest and it takes digging to get to the truth.
The narrative distance also gives the reader a chance to get to know and invest in characters. We meet Roisin, McAvoy’s wife. We get to know Pharoah, McAvoy’s boss, and his other co-detectives. We meet the town council. And we meet Suzie, Simon’s best friend—who finds herself in some dangerous situations without her protector:
Simon used to keep her safe. They played these games together. Best friends. True friends. Him keeping her safe from herself, and providing a reassuring closeness as she indulged in the liaisons that helped her feel alive. Her giving him reasons to feel loved and needed; an escape from the dark thoughts that made him seek out punishment and abuse, threatening to pull him under….
Mark brings the investigators back to Simon’s death in an offbeat, creative way. Then the various threads of the novel are artfully braided together. Mark makes us care for each of the characters individually, then collectively.
Original Skin digs beneath the surface in every way. It digs beneath the surface of a city, beneath the surface of desire, beneath the surface of loss and love, beneath the surface of every skin. This is a very solid second novel, and it stands by itself—which is quite an accomplishment.
See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.
For more information, or to buy a copy, visit:
Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.