The Mark, by Simon Maltman
[Note: This book was given free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
What does the title of this book refer to? It is not immediately clear, but as this novel reaches its various twists and turns, it becomes clear that the title has several layers of meaning. Richard (and to a lesser extent his husband Ivan) is the mark of the main character Vicki and her partner in crime Mike and the target of a robbery from the two of them. On the other hand, Vicki is herself a mark to Richard that needs to be removed because it reminds him of his own failings and the breakup of his own marriage. And, of course, the experiences of this particular novel leave a mark on Vicki both physically and psychologically as she becomes hardened in the course of becoming a far more important figure in the Belfast crime scene than she had been before. One wonders if, given the contents of the book, if this is part of a shared universe within the author’s Belfast crime world or not, because it certainly offers an interesting perspective of how a person can get caught up in things far beyond their expectation.
In many ways this book shows the author taking a step forward in developing his craft. There is an awareness of the shady business involving blackmail threats and the outing of closeted gay celebrities, and Vicki is credibly drawn as a narrator with the author able to get inside her perspective as a morally flexible and resilient woman trying to keep together in the face of realizing that she is not only a petty thief but also someone capable of defending her life to the utmost. The book itself also promises the potential of a series, as the lighthearted reference to herself as a private detective in light of her experiences is something that could happen, presumably, if the novel is successful enough. Given the somewhat crowded world of musically-inclined Belfast detectives/petty criminals with a taste for drinking and smoking and using weed as ways of dealing with life’s stress, it seems quite possible that there will be some sort of crossover between the various characters as they inhabit a very small world. In the meantime, though, this book is a promising and entertaining book that deals with a series of mistakes that goes out of control.
As far as a story goes, this book takes a bit of time before revealing its full extent, starting with some petty theft involving a gay couple. Vicki finds herself engaged in a fling with Richard around the time of his wedding in the Canaries, and then finds that his new husband Ivan is furious and threatens rape against her, which results in his death and her understandable fears of being arrested as a murderer. While she feels a bit uncomfortable about being an accomplice to Richard, who she increasingly (and with good reasons) mistrusts, she is not prepared to find herself being targeted for removal by the shady people that Richard has found himself involved with. From there the plot escalates to a dramatic escape from those who would wish to take her life, at which point the rising tide of revenge and self-defense lead Mike to escalate matters until they reach a satisfying if somewhat abrupt conclusion. And then, after things are done, there is a question of tidiness as to how this is to not rebound back negatively on the main characters. At the end, there are at least a few questions to ponder, such as whether the two will end up as a couple given their obvious chemistry and loyalty, and whether they will have any further adventures together. Such adventures would no doubt be welcome.