The Demon Mark
EVERYONE HAS SECRETS
And war veteran and police inspector Cormag Macleod has plenty of his own. But investigating a murder in a small colonial town on the fringe, Macleod will uncover murky secrets that should not see the light of day.
Strange marks on a corpse raise the spectre of a ritual, and superstition leads to panic in a town saturated in fear and religious fervour. Suspicion turns to blame, and as public order threatens to break down, Macleod must muster all his skill in a race against time.
And those who keep the secrets will do anything to prevent him from discovering the shocking truth.
Kirkus Independent Reviews
From the Cormac McLeod Police Inspector series, Vol. 2
BY SAUL FALCONER ‧ RELEASE DATE: JAN. 25, 2022
Alawman on the Australian frontier encounters a sinister mystery.
In this sequel to his novel The Diabolus Legacy(2019), Falconer returns to the New South Wales of 1877 and his star character: tough, battered Inspector Cormag Macleod. In the previous tale, Macleod unwillingly catapulted his young protégé, McDermott, into danger, and the young man suffered a head injury that seemed likely to alter his life forever. This new story takes up where the last one left off, with McDermott still recovering and finding himself not yet ready to return to the police force. But evil never rests; for instance, readers see Macleod apprehend the notorious thief and murderer Springhill Jack in the book’s opening pages. The inspector follows his duty even though he’s haunted by traumatic memories of his earlier deeds: “A crab crawling from the eye socket of one he had condemned to the depths of Sydney Harbor. And one he had buried in Allynbrook, the specter decomposed and rotting, the disfigured face lolling as it leered at him.” When a young man from a good Roman Catholic family named Seamus Muldoon is found dead, with marks on his body that suggest he may have been killed in some kind of ritual, Macleod begins working the kind of case that will be familiar to readers of murder mysteries. He’s dealing with tight-lipped people (including the new parish priest, Father O’Sullivan) living in the countryside around a small town, and they all seem to be hiding secrets of their own.
As in the first volume, Falconer here captures the rhythms and speech patterns of frontier life with understated skill. The period research that obviously underpins the series is once again both thorough and unobtrusive, and this novel’s moody evocations—the dirt, the countryside, the volatile weather—are more effectively done than in its predecessor. And the center of the tale, Macleod—a military veteran who served in the Crimean War—remains a compelling fictional creation. He’s a convincingly wounded figure (psychologically, in contrast to McDermott’s physical injury), and the nightmares that haunt him are much more eerie and visceral in this adventure than in the first one. “All the dead began to rise,” readers are told at one point, “massing together and staggering toward him, pleading with him, beckoning for him to join them.” The ghosts that haunt the hero are very skillfully interwoven—indeed, inextricably linked—with Macleod’s own past, which is much more fully fleshed out for readers in this tale. Like most of the story’s dialogue, Macleod’s speech is convincingly arch at times, swinging from rough to literary and back as the occasion warrants (“If any of this gets into town, there will be panic,” he warns a character at one point. “Already we have the rumblings of disharmony and anarchy beginning”). Falconer crafts the usual murder-mystery theatrics—tangled subplots, red herrings, and especially a small crowd of suspicious characters for readers to dislike (there are plenty of strangers, newcomers, and rancorous relatives in every chapter). And the author’s take on the familiar gimmick of the mentally wounded protagonist works exceptionally well. Readers who have followed other ex-military characters will especially appreciate the sensitive rendering of the hero here.
A darkly atmospheric and gripping ritual murder tale set in 19th-century New South Wales.