commissaire inspector dottore
a bibliography of detective-inspector novels
the aector mcavoy seriesThe Dark Winter. London: Quercus, 2012.
∴ Sterbensangst. Translated by Peter Friedrich. Berlin: Ullstein, 2012.
∴ Un rigido inverno. Translated by Annamaria Biavasco and Valentina Guanti. Milano: Mondadori, 2013.
∴ Un oscuro invierno. Translated by Javier Sánchez García-Gutiérrez. Madrid: Siruela, 2013.
Original Skin. London: Quercus, 2013.
∴ Dein ist die Rache. Translated by Peter Friedrich. Berlin: Ullstein, 2013.
∴ La otra piel. Translated by María Porras Sánchez. Madrid: Siruela, 2014.
Sorrow Bound. London: Quercus, 2014.
∴ Ewige Buße. Translated by Peter Friedrich. Berlin: Ullstein, 2014.
∴ El dolor que nos une. Translated by María Porras Sánchez. Madrid: Siruela, 2015.
Taking Pity. London: Quercus, 2015.
∴ Erbarme dich unser. Translated by Peter Friedrich. Berlin: Ullstein, 2016.
Dead Pretty. London: Mulholland, 2016.
Cruel Mercy. London: Mulholland, 2017.
Scorched Earth. London: Mulholland, 2018.
Cold Bones. London: Mulholland, 2019.
David Mark's Dark Winter gives us an elaborate and highly hierarchical police department in the North of England. Protagonist Aector McAvoy is technically a Detective Sergeant, but he fits the "commissaire" role well. A couple of Inspectors are his superiors and rivals, and all report to Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh, who strikes up a tense working relationship – full of affection, impatience, and sexual tension – with McAvoy. Pharaoh's rapport with McAvoy often arcs over the intermediate levels of command. At the same time McAvoy supervises Detective Constable Helen Tremberg, who rolls with McAvoy's mercurial, intuitive style.
Now, I have no idea whether this is how the Hull police department works, or whether it has a unit devoted to "Serious and Organised Crime." Author Mark, a former Hull crime journalist, clearly did lots of research and fieldwork to create his fictional police department. He may also have just imagined much of the setting out of scraps of other kinds of institutional organizations, and the org charts of policiers or crime shows. Certain of the characters are original enough (Pharaoh in particular), and others, like the envious Detective Inspector Colin Ray, seem based on archetypes from other crime fiction. (Ray recalls the brusque and stubborn Gévrol from Émile Gaboriau's Lecoq novels, though at quite a distance and probably indirectly.)
There's lots of violence in The Dark Winter: the violence of civil war and its aftermath, the violence of bitter revenge. But as McAvoy learns, the man at the heart of this violence is oddly impersonal. For someone who hacks people to death with machetes and sets others repeatedly on fire, murderer Simeon Gibbons bears his victims surprisingly little ill-will, and in fact seems tortured by the necessity of killing them.
Gibbons sees murder as a necessity because he is trying to re-balance the distribution of miracles in his world. His fiancée was grievously injured in a wartime bombing and now lies in a coma. Gibbons thinks that if he can kill enough miraculous survivors of similar disasters, he can bring her back to consciousness.
As McAvoy himself remarks at times, he's a cosmic-justice sort of guy himself, and (as so often in crime fiction) he is well-qualified to commune with the murderer's motives. The Dark Winter sets up an unusually close personal connection between McAvoy and Gibbons, despite the fact that they are virtual strangers to each other till a climactic fistfight that ends in Gibbons' accidental death. Twice earlier, they have a personal confrontation. After Gibbons' first killing, McAvoy accosts him coming out of a church; after another attempted murder, McAvoy tackles Gibbons and holds onto him briefly before the killer breaks free. McAvoy is stung by these failures and all the more motivated to track Gibbons down.
I can't say that The Dark Winter is particularly enlightened on gender issues. The Hull Serious and Organised Crime Unit presents what Kerstin Bergman (following John Scaggs) calls a representative "microcosm" of English society, at least in terms of gender and nationality (it's a fairly white group, though McAvoy is Scottish). As noted, McAvoy reports to a woman and has a woman reporting to him. He's in love with his wife Roisin and would never (as far as we can tell) hit on a subordinate. But he is strangely attracted to his supervisor Trish Pharaoh, who in turn uses her sexuality to influence co-workers, suspects, and witnesses alike.
Mark assesses each female character who appears in terms of sexual attractiveness. To be fair, he's also interested in the appearance of his male characters. McAvoy is huge and handsome, if a kind of gentle giant, and we feel the weight and wants of his body through Mark's narration. But one can't help get the feeling that in McAvoy's workplace, women matter according to how hot they are. It gives a progressive reader a bad taste in the mouth (and an unsettling doubt about how women may be valued in the readers' own workplaces). It's possible that Mark is just reflecting the ambiance of a historically-male workplace – or, possibly, McAvoy's own values. But the bottom line is that The Dark Winter gets to have it both ways: to present us with strong, competent women, and to reduce those women to their sexuality. The tension between McAvoy and Pharaoh seems to foreshadow a continuing plotline in the series ahead (The Dark Winter being the initial entry in a series).
Bergman, Kerstin. "The Well-Adjusted Cops of the New Millennium: Neo-Romantic Tendencies in the Swedish Police Procedural." In Andrew Nestingen and Paula Arvas, eds., Scandinavian Crime Fiction. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011. 34-45.