Saturday, April 19, 2014

Original Skin: David Mark

DS Aector McAvoy and his boss Trish Pharoah are back for a second adventure. The characters are fleshed out even more in this book. It appears that David Mark will continue to dig deeper into his characters lives as they work together.

McAvoy is a Scotsman. Large and very noticeable, he tries to blend in, unsuccessfully. Some descriptions from the book:
Detective sergeant Aector McAvoy spent his first months in plain clothes taking the title literally. He all but camouflaged himself in khaki-colored trousers, hiking boots, and cheap, mushroom-hued shirts, tearing them fresh from polythene packets every Monday. The disguise never worked. At six foot five inches, and with red hair, freckles, and a Highlander mustache, he is always the most noticeable man in the room.
It was his young wife, Roisin, who put a stop to his attempts to blend in. ...
Under her guidance, and blushing at every alteration to his wardrobe, McAvoy had become known within the force as much for his smart suits and cashmere coat, for his leather satchel and cuff links, as for his detective skills and scars.
McAvoy blushes a lot, and seems naive at times.

There are two plot lines going simultaneously in Original Skin.  McAvoy and his boss, Detective Superintendant Pharoah, are working on a high profile case related to drug gangs and killings involving tortured and mutilated bodies. McAvoy takes an interest in an unrelated death of a young man; the death was originally thought to be suicide. He pursues this case without explicit approval from his boss.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It has some very good characteristics, and has gotten high praise in many reviews, but the elements of gritty violence and the emphasis on sex in the story line turned me off. A lot of this is encountered at the beginning of the book, but these themes do continue throughout the book. I have not yet figured out why some books with violence and dark themes bother me more than others, but this one went over the line for me.

I enjoyed David Mark's first book in this series, Dark Winter.  In my review of that book, I described the protagonist ...
McAvoy is a likeable character, honest, well-meaning, idealistic. He is humble, and doesn't believe in himself; worries a lot about whether he is making the right decision. He is a family man, a devoted father, worried that he is making his family suffer when he pays more attention to the job.
After reading this book I would add:  He is a policeman more dedicated to the solving of crimes and righting wrongs than he is to rising in the ranks or impressing his superiors.

All of this is very good, but he does go off on his own a bit too much, and that is what made this story seem unrealistic to me. Most fiction, and especially crime fiction, veers off in this direction because we want to read about unique and courageous people. But this was a niggle for me when reading this book.

Good points:

  • The characterization is very good. We get a very clear picture of McAvoy and his wife and his co-workers and his superior officer.
  • There are many interesting and strong female characters.
  • I like a story to move and pull me in. This one has very good pacing and never drags, not in all of the 427 pages. 

Negative points:

  • Written in present tense. I don't like this style of writing but I found this acceptable in the first novel. In this one, it bothered me throughout the book.
  • Many unsettling scenes of violence, descriptions of bodies. This story and its telling was too dark and gruesome for me.
  • Too much emphasis on McAvoy's personal life. It does come into the plot and it is not boring. I like to know some background on the main characters, but this one has too much of that element for me.

Because Original Skin has received so many positive reviews. I would advise most readers to try the book, with the warning that there are scenes of violence that are hard to take. There is also a good bit of foul language, which doesn't bother me at all but definitely can put off some readers.

See these other reviews at In Search of the Classic Mystery, The Crime Segments, and Euro Crime.

I am committed to reading the third book in this series, Sorrow Bound. I dithered about reading this book first or just skipping to Sorrow Bound. I am now glad that I read Original Skin, because it does fill in more information and background about his family and other policemen that he works with. For me, this will be useful in going on to the next book. 

16 comments:

  1. Tracy - I've heard good things about this series too. But like you, I'm not much of a one for a whole lot of emphasis on gory violence and explicit sex. I'll have to think about that before deciding to read this one...

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    1. It is a hard decision, Margot, in cases like this. I am not sorry I read it, but I was disappointed.

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  2. TracyK: I think I want to wait until you read the third book before I decide what I want to do about the series. At the moment it will not become a priority.

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    1. Bill, I will be reading the book sometime in June probably. I am hoping I like book 3 better.

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  3. I don't mind the violence and sex, if the plot merits it, as much as the present tense of the novel.

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    1. Prashant, I have a problem with present tense too, but was able to ignore that in the first book. Hope the third one is better for me.

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  4. A bit of skimming as I have this one, but not the third. I'll see how I go before committing to number 3.

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    1. Col, I will be VERY interested in your review of this one. A lot of people really really liked it, you probably will too.

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  5. Tracy, I had a similar reaction. I absolutely loved the first book in this series, I thought it was refreshing and interesting, loved the characters. But when I read this one I was fighting against disappointment - the characters and the background were as good as ever, but the violence just wore me down, I found it sickening. I did finish it, just, but I actually didn't blog on it (very unusual for me) and I don't think I can face the 3rd one - though I may change my mind if I read good reviews.

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    1. Moira, from what little I have read, I am afraid the third one will have the same level of violence. I hope not. I definitely like the strong female characters in this series, even if I can't empathize with all of them.

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  6. I feel I should stand up for the series. This book, as I mentioned in my review, has some grim scenes, not least the opening one, but I find David Mark's writing style almost mesmerising and, despite not being one for overtly violent books, found this one to be a great read - possibly better than the first. Sorrow Bound, book three, is even better and I found that the violence has been toned down - not sure if that was deliberate or not. There's some interesting development for our leads and I can guarantee that if you read Sorrow Bound, you will be wanting to read the fourth (as yet unpublished) book too.

    Mark has a gift for creating vivid characters, even if you can't (and in some cases shouldn't) bring yourself to like them. But I urge anyone who enjoyed the first book but found the second one to be too violent to give the third one a try. I don't think you'll regret it.

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    1. Puzzle Doctor, David Mark definitely writes very well and I would recommend them to anyone, but I was very taken back by the level of violence, so feel it was necessary to emphasize that point. On the other hand, the reader learns much more about many of the characters, so if that is important to the reader, this book should be included. I do not regret reading the book, and am glad to hear there is less violence in the next one.

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  7. Interesting review, Tracy. I read books one and three in this series and enjoyed them. Original Skin passed me by and it seems to be Mark's least favourite amongst his readers.

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    1. Sarah, it was your review of the third book that had me wavering over whether to read the second one or not. Still not sure whether that was the best decision given my reaction to it.

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  8. I did like the first one in the series, but have not continued with it. Excessive violence does put me off a bit, I admit. Maybe skip straight to the third?

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    1. That is a hard question to answer, Marina. I think the third can be read and enjoyed without reading this one. I had originally planned to do that. But this one does add information about the characters, so it really depends on whether that is important to you. The violence in this one was really unpleasant to me.

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