Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 September 2019 from Severn House
Ten-year-old Hilda’s search for her missing friend has terrible consequences in this gripping psychological thriller.
When her friend Meda fails to turn up for dance class one evening, 10-year-old Hilda is convinced that something bad has happened to her, despite Meda’s family’s reassurances. Unable to shake off her concerns, Hilda turns to her mother, Molly, for help. Molly runs the Jolly Bonnet, a pub with links to the Whitechapel murders of a century before and a meeting place for an assortment of eccentrics drawn to its warm embrace. Among them is Lottie. Pathologist by day, vlogger by night, Lottie enlists the help of her army of online fans – and uncovers evidence that Meda isn’t the first young girl to go missing.
But Molly and Lottie’s investigations attract unwelcome attention. Two worlds are about to collide in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on the rain-lashed streets of London’s East End, a historic neighbourhood that has run red with the blood of innocents for centuries.
I’m rather a fan off David Mark’s writing. The Zealot’s Bones was a stand-out book of 2017, that did not get the recognition it deserved. The Mausoleum, another stand-alone novel, was a beautifully conceived and well executed historical tale full of exceptionally well-drawn characters, with a tense and claustrophobic setting.
What Mark does really well is inject full on atmosphere into whatever he writes and in A Rush of Blood, he returns to more of a gothic horror theme.
This time it is a contemporary story, but with echoes of the days of Jack the Ripper. We are in the East End of London and ex-cop Molly runs a Jack the Ripper themed pub, the Jolly Bonnet, in Whitechapel. Molly’s best friend is Lottie, a pathologist who is also a vlogger, maintaining a somewhat macabre vlog called The Coffin Club on the quirkier aspects of death and the paraphernalia of death, which has a huge following. Lottie dresses with all the flair and flamboyance of a bright blue haired steampunk. Molly has a 10 year old daughter, Hilda who lives with her, but who can also be found hanging out in the pub with Lottie, whom she finds fascinating.
Hilda attends a dancing class and her friend there is a similarly aged Lithuanian girl named Meda. One day, Meda simply fails to show up and after Hilda badgers her mother into going to Meda’s home to find out what’s wrong, the pair realise that they are in the midst of something rather more serious that they could have suspected.
Meda’s family have wrongly assumed that she is the subject of kidnap for ransom, a practice that is seemingly not uncommon to these Eastern Europeans. They think that setting some home-grown heavies on the kidnappers will get Meda back safe and sound and do not need well-meaning people like Molly sticking their noses in.
Unfortunately, what Molly and Hilda have stumbled on is altogether more sinister and far creepier.
Hilda and Molly are our narrators, with additional interventions from Lottie and a strange and deeply creepy character, Mr Farkas, adding their voices.
Mr. Farkas was once a noted academic, now he, like Lottie, is a collector of death artefacts. He lives in a dilapidated three story house in Spitalfields. It does not take long before the reader realises that sanity and Mr Farkas have only a nodding acquaintance…
David Mark has an interesting mind and a very different way of looking at crime which appeals to my love of all things dark and horror filled. Here he plays with gothic themes and gives them a contemporary slant, all the way transporting the reader into a world we never wanted to inhabit. This is not a whodunit, rather it is a portrait of cruelty and madness leavened by loving relationships and some fearsomely good straight talking.
Mark’s characters are glorious; Lottie in particular, and his crimes are tainted with the macabre and the obscene, in the sense that they are outside the realm of human decency. He manages to paint detailed portraits and tinge them with sepia, all the while ensuring that we know who the warm blooded lovers of life and laughter are.
Verdict: A dark, horror imbued read with some sexy and warm, life affirming moments to pierce the darkness. Recommended.
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 Northumberland with his partner, two children and an assortment of animals.