Taking Pity (Detective Sergeant McAvoy) - David Mark Brown

Book #4 begins with a chilling flashback to 1966. A small town cop stumbles over 4 bodies in a graveyard while Peter Coles, a local "slow" boy, stands nearby with a shotgun. Peter will go on to spend the next 50 years in various asylums.

In present day, DI Aector McAvoy is still on leave following events from the previous book. HIs home is a bombed out shell, his wife & daughter are gone & he's living in a motel with 5 year old son Fin. The physical wounds are minor compared to his emotional state. 

When asked to review a 50 year old case, he jumps at the chance to distract himself from reality. A man named Peter Coles has been declared sane & can finally be tried for the murder of a family in 1966. It's a political hot potato & Aector is tasked with going over the file to make sure everything is in order.

 

DS Trish Pharaoh misses the big Scotsman & could use his help. Dealing with criminal gangs is part of the job. But there's a new crew in town & they play by different rules. Called the Headhunters (HH), they're structured like a corporate business & no one knows the identity of the CEO. He's just a voice on the phone, directing minions on where to go & who to teach a lesson (don't forget your nail gun).

One by one the smaller gangs are absorbed, literally by hostile takeover. But one crime boss resists. Francis Nock is a hard man in his 70's who's had a firm hand on the area for decades. His bodyguard/care giver Raymond Mahon has been with him for 50 years & can scare people to death with just his appearance. When the HH make their move, they not only fail but lose one of their men. It goes without saying Mahon will have "persuaded" him to talk before he & Nock disappeared.

In short order we discover the key to the HH's success is a network of well paid dirty cops. So it's no surprise when the CEO gets in touch with Trish with an offer....the location of Nock & Mahon in return for the continued safety of Aector's family.

Meanwhile 2 cops in Trish's unit begin a quiet investigation of heir own. Colin Ray is on suspension & needs a focus for his bitterness. Helen Tremberg was injured when Aector's house exploded & on medical leave. They've both had run-ins with the HH & have different reasons for revenge.

 

The plot of this book is like a gordian knot, reaching out to snare characters from various story lines before doubling back to weave them all together. It's incredibly layered & not immediately clear how they're related. But that's what makes this such a compelling read. As agendas & secret alliances are gradually revealed, the bigger picture slowly emerges with one stunning surprise after another. The author doesn't let up, reserving the biggest jaw dropper for the final pages. Suddenly it all makes sense as each piece fits snuggly into place. In fact, it's so obvious I had to give myself a mental smack for not figuring it out. The clues were all there, hiding in plain sight among all the distractions. So smart.

Characters run the gamut & are fully fleshed out. It's not easy to separate the good guys from the bad when some of the criminals have more honour than those out to arrest them. Each plays a part in reeling you into the story, making this a hard book to put down. 

By the end Aector's situation has improved but the last chapter makes it clear this is temporary at best. Unlike him, the reader knows who poses the greatest threat. It's a payoff for faithful fans of this series & ensures we'll be waiting impatiently to snatch up book #5.