Dead Pretty | David Mark | 2016 | Mulholland Books | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book
When DS Aector McAvoy takes his family out for picnics, they sit on the local park grass, under which McAvoy is convinced Hannah Kelly, a young girl missing for months, lies buried. He is obsessed by this girl that he couldn’t find, he wants to be as close to her as he can, swearing to her that he will catch her killer. McAvoy’s wife, Roisin, understands, as does everyone else including his boss, Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh. Pharaoh, though, has a world of problems of her own to contend with, not least the recent release from prison of Reuben Hollow, a man found to have been imprisoned wrongfully for murder. Hollow has become a media sensation and Pharaoh’s reputation has been damaged by the whole business. It doesn’t help that Hollow is easy on the eye and that he’s trying to attract hers as he makes it clear that he doesn’t blame Pharaoh for his conviction. And then there’s the matter of her husband and those debts. When someone comes knocking on Pharoah’s door these days it can never be good news.
But it’s about to get worse. The body of another young girl is found, Ava Delaney. McAvoy is convinced that the cases of Ava and Hannah are linked and he is determined to find the connection whatever the personal cost. He might as well be on his own, though. Pharaoh is seriously distracted, absent in more ways than one, not opening up about what’s on her mind. McAvoy begins to fear the worst. But his focus has to be on these two lost girls who are relying on him for justice.
Dead Pretty is the first novel I’ve read in the McAvoy series but it didn’t matter at all as I found myself quickly absorbed into these lives. There are tantalising mentions of previous events but nothing is spoiled. I immediately felt the appeal of the sensitive, gentle giant Aector McAvoy but the main focus of my attention was Trish Pharaoh. This is a remarkable portrait of a woman who appears on the surface to be only just hanging on but has such a depth to her – her children, her husband, Reuben Hollow, McAvoy and Roisin, her job, booze – all of these and much more occupy this complicated woman’s mind. There are little moments, such as her horror at realising she’s left her fake tooth in a glass by her bed when she’s been called out to bring her teenage daughter home, which contribute to such a thoroughly three-dimensional portrait of a fascinating woman. Pharaoh’s self-image is completely at odds with the one that the world sees. I loved that. The relationship between McAvoy and Pharaoh and between their families is tender but, intriguingly, it isn’t straightforward.
Dead Pretty presents a fine mystery which contains some truly disturbing revelations. The truth reveals itself slowly, having allowed layer upon layer of possibilities to build up before each is peeled away. For much of the time we are as much in the dark as McAvoy. But what makes the mystery all the more powerful and meaningful and moving when it needs to be, is that Dead Pretty is a character-driven story. We don’t just get to know the main characters, we also meet their families. Even the worst of bad guys have another side to them. This makes the brutality all the more shocking. The fact that the novel is beautifully written is just another of the book’s joys.
It was such a pleasure to meet and get to know Aector McAvoy and, especially, Trish Pharaoh. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.