From Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the Good Lord deliver us.
In 1849, Hull is a city forgotten and abandoned; in the grip of a cholera outbreak that sees its poorest citizens cut down by the cartload.
Into this world of flame and grief comes Meshach Stone, a former soldier, lost upon his way. He’s been hired as bodyguard by a Canadian academic hunting for the bones of the apostle Simon the Zealot, rumoured to lie somewhere in Lincolnshire.
Stone can’t see why ancient bones are of interest in a world full of them…but then a woman he briefly loved is killed. As he investigates he realises that she is just one of many… and that some deaths cry out for vengeance.
From the twisted imagination of David Mark, author of the McAvoy series, THE ZEALOT’S BONES is historical crime with a difference.
I am not usually a massive fan of historical crime fiction, but I do know and like David Mark’s contemporary fiction, so I was intrigued to find out what his first foray into historical crime would be like.
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.
The Zealot’s Bones is published by Hodder Books on September 21st 2017
David spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the Detective Sergeant Hector McAvoy novels.
He has written five novels in the McAvoy series, Dark Winter, Original Skin, Sorrow Bound, Taking Pity and Dead Pretty. David has also written a McAvoy novella, A Bad Death, which is available as an ebook. Dark Winter was selected for the Harrogate New Blood panel, a Richard & Judy pick and a Sunday Times bestseller.
He lives in Lincolnshire with his partner, two children and an assortment of animals.