It’s a little after midnight. I’m freezing. The flight seemed to take forever and the security guy at the airport was a right prick. Apparently ‘a bit of both’ isn’t an answer that they can work with in reply to the question ‘business or pleasure?’ The cab driver who brought me from JFK to the Lower East Side had been thrilled to discover he had an author in his taxi. He took it as an opportunity to outline his idea for a novel. And when I say ‘outline’, I mean ‘tell me every word that is going to be in it’ and insist upon an in-depth critique.
So I’m grumpy. I’m hungry. My back aches and I can smell marijuana. Two men are arguing about a parking space and a small woman with her arms and feet poking out of the holes in a sleeping bag is sitting on a low wall swinging her legs and eating Chinese food from a tray. I’m outside the precinct where a few months from now, Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy will have his first meeting with New York Detective Ronald Alto. I’ve seen it on GoogleMaps a dozen times. But I’ve never felt the cold. Never tasted the air. Never breathed in this miasma of scents or learned that the drifts of compacted snow turn to jagged little mountain ranges of dirty ice. That’s why I’m here. I need to understand the city. I need to get my head tuned in right.
Two hours later I’m in a speakeasy where Lucky Luciano used to drink. I’m sipping cocktails from a teacup. The barman is wearing a bowler hat and braces (and other stuff too) and my brain is going into overdrive as he tells me about the date-rapist that got caught at a nearby bar slipping Rohypnol into a girl’s beer. She was a niece of a cop from New Jersey. Word is that somebody made him eat a hundred dollars in quarters before dumping him in the river near Staten Island. I’m not believing it, but the story is going down a treat with my Gin Sling.
And now I’m standing with the bouncers. ‘Nightclub security’ is the label they prefer. Big fella with a cauliflower ear is telling me how the movies get it wrong. ‘Aint no gangsters, not no more. Just criminals, man. Just bad people. You think we’d bow our heads to let some guy skip the line because he’s hooked up to some crime family?”
I push. There must be some Godfather characters left. Must be some patriarchs giving orders about life and death from an ice cream parlour downtown. The big guy scratches his cheek. Leans low enough to whisper. Tells me a story he heard at the gym. Old wiseguy. 70-plus. Used to keep a knuckle-duster under the handle of his walking frame. Served 20 years for strangling a council official with his own dog-lead. The dog had still been attached at the time. Pomeranian. Wiseguy got caught because he took the dog to the vet when the murder was over. Poor animal had dangled off his master’s back while the noose was tightened.
I’m soaking it up. Drinking it in. Imagining. People are coming to life in my brain.
Now I’m at an unlicensed boxing match. Slavic visages. Tattoos and buzz-cuts. Fur coats, leather jackets and the smell of garlic and cigars. I’m keeping my head down, as my guide has urged. Used to be a warehouse, apparently. Owner lost it in a card game. Belongs to the organisation that runs Little Odessa at Brighton Beach. Tonight’s bout doesn’t promise much blood. Just a friendly little bout between two young men looking to make some cash. The people betting on the outcome might not be criminals. Might be lovely people spending their salary on a different kind of night out. But I’m seeing so much more. Seeing an Irish Traveller who has flown over for a grudge match against a brute. Seeing it all go wrong. Seeing the carnage and the bloodshed and an ugly murder committed upstate – bullets and blades in the snow-filled, crow’s-back blackness.
Three days later I’m home. I’m fizzing with ideas. I’m reining myself in. The camera roll on my phone is full of more incriminating pictures than I’m comfortable with. The microphone has several hours worth of crackly conversations recorded in my pocket. I’m feeling alive. Feeling like a character in my own story. I can’t remember which bits are real and which are made up. It’s a good feeling. I start to write.
The detectives’ room is on the second floor of the utilitarian Seventh Precinct. It overlooks a dreary, blustery corridor of the Lower East Side. The constant wind seems to have picked up a vast chunk of Manhattan’s most uninspiring constructions and deposited them at the edge of the East River. The Seventh, housed at the pleasingly exact address of 19 and-a-half Pitt Street, looks out on a scene almost Soviet in its bleakness. This is a place of housing projects, bridge ramps, and squat brick buildings, rattled almost insensible by the constant rumble of vehicles crossing the bridge overhead. Nobody would put this view on a Christmas card, despite the hard, frozen snow which is piled up on the sidewalks like garbage bags. Fresh snow hasn’t fallen for three nights but the temperature has yet to get above zero and the flurries that did fall have now turned to jagged white stone. The emergency rooms are overrun with people who slipped and hurt themselves…
I nibbled at the rancid core of the Big Apple. I hope you take a big bite out of the story it inspired.
Also of Interest
- Dream Cast for McAvoy Series
A couple of years back, the rights to my first novel were snapped up by a major TV company and I enjoyed lots of lovely lunches with the sort of people who would ignore a telephone call from Kenneth Branagh so as not to be distracted from one of my rambling anecdotes. It was all rather jolly. The adaptation never happened, of course. I don’t think the guy in charge had even read the book. But it was quite exciting while it lasted. Since then, lots of people have asked me who I would cast, if given free rein, in a small-screen version of the McAvoy books. This is the kind of thing that stops me sleeping, I hope you understand.Continue reading >>
- A Bite of the Big Apple
During the research process, I’m pretty much a sponge. I absorb and soak up until I am saturated. Sitting at a bar in Little Italy, earwigging as the wiseguys spoke about ‘some bum’ who needed ‘a talking to’ it occurred to me I probably had the best job in the world but probably shouldn’t be seen taking notes. Drinking rum-filled hot chocolates in an Irish bar, I had a vision of McAvoy’s boss, Trish Pharaoh, getting insanely excited at the selection of whiskies and realised that I needed to get her into the story...Continue reading >>
- McAvoy and Me
- Setting the Scene
Invariably (until recently) my books have been set in Hull. Why? Well, I know the city. I’ve lived around the area for 17 years and I was a journalist in the city for an age. I know that if you drive down Southcoates Lane with your windows down you will smell the cocoa from the chocolate factory. I know if you head for Wincolmlee to avoid the traffic on Beverley Road, the stink from the tannery will make your eyes water. I know that the car park at...Continue reading >>
- Why the Hull Not?
The lock gates look as though they are simply staying up out of bloody-mindedness. The timbers are rotten: sinking, inch by inch, into a sucking chocolatey sludge. The rusty metal struts are half hidden behind hanging tapestries of green slime. Anybody wanting to test the path must first wriggle past lethal-looking metal security railings and a tattered curl of barbed wire. This is St Andrew’s Dock in Hull.Continue reading >>
- A Room Without a View
You’ve got me feeling nostalgic. Until a few weeks ago, I had an office of my own. Green walls. Burgundy leather recliner. My horses looking up at me from the stables and snowdrops sprouting among the headstones in the graveyard next door. Books by the cartload and a cork-board covered in random newspaper articles, interspersed with photos...Continue reading >>
- David Mark interview on Audible
Learn more about David Mark, Hull, the DS McAvoy crime series and Cruel Mercy, in this interview with Robin Morgan in the Audible Studios. 12 minutes. Listen nowContinue reading >>
- David Mark on location in Hull reads from Dead Pretty
- David Mark on location in Hull reads from Original Skin
- David Mark on location in Hull reads from Dark Winter
- David Mark on location in Hull reads from Dead Pretty
- David Mark leads you into the streets of Hull
- Might you also talk a bit about your writing process? Your daily process while you are writing as well as what is it like to write a series—keeping all those plot threads straight!
I’m very lucky that I have the kind of mind that is perfectly suited to writing fiction and which is horribly ill-suited to everything else. I take notes now and again and sometimes find scraps of paper with random words and aide-memoirs scribbled upon them but by and large I think of my skull like one of those candyfloss machines. I just swirl a stick around in there and ideas stick to it. The story I’m living and breathing then squats there in my head and pushes everything else out. Sometimes I look at the clock and I’ve lost a day and I realise I haven’t been to the bathroom since dawn. I write a chapter a day, no matter what. I’m at my desk by 9am, drinking coffee and grinding my teeth. It’s delightfully masochistic. I kind of enjoy the agony of it, which sounds very pretentious for a writer of dark thrillers! As soon as it’s done, my brain just kind of flatlines for a bit. Then it starts preparing for the next project. Two years later, when the book is in people’s hands, I’ve largely forgotten what it was about. Sorry!Continue reading >>
- What is essential to writing good crime fiction? Do you stick to some sort of formula or do you break all the rules? Do you read a lot of crime fiction or thrillers as well?
I read everything I can get my hands on. I love thrillers and psychological fiction but it is rather difficult to read them for pleasure now that it’s my day job. It’s hard not to read with an air of comparing the market. I don’t really take any notice of rules, either in the writing process or in life. Actually, I do have one – if the novelist has mentioned the make and model of a car by the end of the first paragraph, the book isn’t for me. And for God’s sake, don’t start off with a dream. For me, it’s just a case of meeting interesting people and twisting preconceptions on their head. Listen to the radio a lot. People who phone DJs are particularly inspiring – they always seem like the sort of person who could be a killer or the killed. Listen to your inner voice. When some dullard is telling you about their tedious problems, think of ways to kill them, and why. It’s less risky than actually doing it. And you think I’m joking.Continue reading >>