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The Zealot's Bones Hardcover – 21 Sep 2017
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Mark brings some wonderful characterisation, particularly in the minor roles...His writing is quite brilliant (Crime Review)
This novel is not for the faint-hearted, with more than a slice of Gothic horror about it, blended skilfully with all essential elements of a traditional crime thriller...Blood, gore, guts, bones, rats, asylums, séances - they're all here in this viscerally, but superbly descriptive book. (Historia)
[An] inventive, spiky book...a wonderful read (The Times)
Praise for David Mark
Fast-moving and tightly plotted, with strong characterisation and a likeable protagonist (Guardian)
Highly entertaining (The Sunday Times)
Wry insights into the human condition and lyrical descriptions of the East Yorkshire landscape (Irish Independent)
In terms of food analogies, some books are bland or subtly flavoured, while others are like a fiery curry. David Mark's DS McAvoy books are unarguably in the latter category (Independent)
A blockbuster historical novel from bestselling author David Mark - which will appeal to his fans as well as anyone who loves Ripper Street, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, and Antonia Hodgson.See all Product description
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And what a blistering read it turned out to be. I was transfixed from the opening pages right through to the explosive climax of the novel.
I rather like Hull and I’m delighted that it is City of Culture this year. But today’s Hull is rather different from the plague ridden Hull of D.M. Mark’s book.
Set in 1849, Hull is in the grip of a cholera epidemic, running rife as a result of the squalid slums and rat infested hovels that are the unenviable dwellings of the poor.
Our protagonist is Mesach Stone, a hero of Afghanistan who was subsequently brutally injured and then court-martialled in his absence. Mesach is an imposing figure and one who now uses his strength and abilities to operate as a personal bodyguard and occasional companion.
His current employer is the son of a wealthy Canadian. Diligence Matheson, is not a dilettante but has an academic bent and is set on pursuing the trail of the remains of Simon the Zealot, which remains are rumoured to be buried in the Lincolnshire area.
Though somewhat unlikely companions, Mesach and Diligence have struck up a friendship of sorts, for Diligence is a decent, mild mannered chap and he can all to easily see that Mesach carries with him more demons than any man should have to bear.
On a trip into Hull Mesach, who will indulge in to any and all forms of alcohol and drugs in order to sublimate his demons, decides to go in search of a prostitute with whom he felt a connection last time he visited the town. But when he gets there, he finds that she has died and feeling a violent outburst of remorse, he pays to have her looked after and well buried; for this is a place where the epidemic means that bodies are carried off by the cartload and dumped in graves where no-one can ever find them.
Diligence meanwhile, is heartened by the news that a new lead he has followed as to the whereabouts of Simon the Zealot’s artefacts may be about to pay off. A new acquaintance could be just the one to help him gain access to a reliquary belonging to Lord Ansell, who lives in a large mansion on the outskirts of the city.
While Diligence settles in as a guest at the mansion, enjoying the best of food and wine, Mesach is relegated to a draughty stone hut on the estate, for Lord Ansell has recognised our fallen hero and is not best pleased to see him.
Mesach resolves to use the time while his master is a guest to go and ensure that his instructions regarding Laura, the prostitute have been followed. But in the course of trying to find her grave he discovers to his horror that Laura was one of a number of prostitutes who have been brutally killed, not by taken cholera, but murdered by a merciless butcher of women.
As Mesach hunts down the killer he will not allow anyone to stand in his way, and Diligence Matheson is also beginning to feel the first stirrings of unease in his new surroundings…
This is probably* not a book for lovers of uplifting cosy crime. This is a harsh and unforgiving era and Mesach’s demons are strong and repellent; his guilt all too well deserved and his conscience rightly heavy. D.M. Mark’s characters are rich with deep and compelling backstories; the Hull air is redolent with the sounds and smells of a cholera pandemic.
There were moments of real horror in this book and it is so beautifully descriptive that my skin literally felt crawled upon and I shivered at some of the detail offered up. This is a dark, grim and menacing tale that left me feeling weak and horrified.
But I loved it, and felt the gothic atmosphere unfold around me as I read. This is a compelling and utterly absorbing read. Beautifully written, with great characters and real tension, I could not put it down.
David Mark is familiar to many as the author of the McAvoy contemporary police detective series but in The Zealot’s Bones he picks up the reins of a historical murder mystery for the first time – and I am so glad he did. The Zealot’s Bones is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the finest historical novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year.
The writing is superb. This is a dark, gruesome and twisted tale and through it walk the damned and the afflicted. And David Mark brings both the locations and characters to life with the most gorgeously vivid prose. The dialogue is wonderful and often extremely witty as we know well that what a character says need not be at all what he or she means. This is an age of manners and etiquette and sometimes not even murder is allowed to interfere with that. When one memorably odious character meets Matheson and Stone, he utters ‘I… extend the hand of welcome, even if I would rather chew it off’ and this sums up the hypocrisy of this impoverished, plague-ridden and cruel Victorian world. It also made me chuckle.
Stone is a fabulous creation. In many ways he believes that he is as evil as the monster he hunts and his body is as scarred as he believes his soul must also be. We’re taken deep into his troubled mind and it isn’t always a gentle place to be but there is a kindness about Stone, a willingness to change his life, that makes his experiences here all the more painful and meaningful to read about. His relationship with the rather lovely and charming Diligence Matheson is tender and enjoyable. I loved Diligence’s quest for the Zealot’s bones. He’s so easily distracted but he too has something to prove.
There are some fantastic characters in The Zealot’s Bones, whether they’re good or evil. The ratcatcher is quite a scene stealer and there are other intriguing men and women who make brief but colourful cameos. The murders are horrendous, their victims utterly pitiful and the murderer an abomination. This is gruesome stuff and I found it impossible to tear my eyes away. And all is set against the most perfectly described backdrops of a city devastated by death and mourning and a wonderfully creepy country house, likewise caught in the grip of something dreadful and disturbing. Increasing the mood are Stone’s haunted memories and dreams of his experiences in Afghanistan. It’s all mesmerising and every line of fine prose does its job to hook the reader in and keep them there.
I hope so much that Meshach Stone returns. If he does, that book will go straight to the top of my reading pile with no shadow of doubt. I'm grateful for the review copy.
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