CROCODILE TEARS by MARK O SULLIVAN : review

CROCODILE TEARS
MARK O SULLIVAN
TRANSWORLD IRELAND 362 pages €13.99

“Crocodile Tears” is a clever play on the similarly named medical syndrome denoting a constantly weeping eye – an affliction of the book’s hero – and the sentiments expressed over the murder victim in this, the debut crime novel by Mark O’ Sullivan, already well known as an author of children’s books.

In it we meet Garda Detective Inspector Leo Woods and his assistant Helen Troy, he middle aged and with a facial disfigurement, she on her first assignment as a Detective Sergeant. Together they are investigating the murder in Howth of property tycoon Dermot Brennan.

The murder takes place in November 2010, with the economic recession in full spate. There are no lack of suspects: a disgruntled, and broke, home owner from one of Brennan’s ghost estates, former business associates, an estranged son as well as two unsavoury family acquaintances. The several possible motives make the detectives’ task more difficult.

Leo Woods is a memorable character, permanently disfigured, physically and psychologically, by Bell’s Palsy, who collects face masks as a way of coping with his affliction. He smokes, he snorts, he suffers bouts of malaria – souvenir of a tour of duty with the UN – and has an uneasy relationship with his superintendent, product of a past liaison with the latter’s wife. His methods are unorthodox but he gets results.

Helen Troy for her part has personal complications as she tries to establish herself in her new position, with a waster of a brother desperate to milk his share of their father’s estate, and an ex who won’t stop pestering her. The Garda team is completed by a bright and ambitious young policeman, a constant source of annoyance to Woods, together with an accident prone Garda with a crush on Troy.

Sub plots abound in what becomes an increasingly complicated mystery to unravel, with real and suspected liaisons involving a sculptor, an American gardener and the radical German owner of an animal shelter, all with a possible bearing on the murder. Throw in political interference, a holdall stuffed with cash in the victim’s house and a disappearing Latvian housemaid and there is more than sufficient to test the investigating team’s mettle. The story proceeds at a fast pace and includes several twists, some outside the box thinking and a mounting body count before the final denoument ,all the action compressed into a single week.

The book is well written, gritty, with dark humour and some striking metaphors and is a good addition to the Irish crime fiction corpus. The author’s agent has likened it to “The Killing.” I saw enough to compare it to Mankel’s “Wallender”, in the Henriksson T.V. series. A satisfying read. There should be a sequel. Woods deserves it.

April 2013

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