Written by Mark O’Sullivan — He has already won acclaim for his children’s literature, now Mark O’Sullivan has set his sights on crime fiction, and a very promising debut it is too. Set in the harsh winter of 2010, Crocodile Tears finds southern Ireland in the depths of recession and still reeling from the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. One man badly hit is Dermot Brennan, a property tycoon whose financial future is on a knife-edge. And when he is found brutally murdered in his palatial home in on the outer edges of Dublin, there seems to be no end of people who could have done the dastardly deed.
In steps freshly promoted Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, who is so new she doesn’t even have her own desk yet. Her boss is away and she must make the first enquiries without him – but Helen has heard a lot about the enigmatic Detective Inspector Leo Woods and is anticipating their first meeting with a mixture of dread and excitement.
She doesn’t have too long to wait because Woods soon appears to take the case in hand. And Troy is shocked – why had no one thought to warn her that he is a Bell’s Palsy suffererer, a condition which has given his face a grotesque, lop-sided appearance.
Thus, Troy and the reader are first introduced to Woods, a man with enough back-story to fill six novels. He is in his mid-50s, a former UN peace keeper who has travelled far and wide and seen and done many things. It also transpires that he has an obsession with collecting masks, a love of Eric Cantona, and a hidden drug habit.
A lot to take in, I think you’ll agree, and I’ve really only scratched the surface as far as Leo is concerned. Yes, he is a complex character, but did we need such a bombardment of information on our first meeting? The over-development of the central character has the downside of making the reader feel they’ve arrived late to the party. In fact, I double checked the accompanying press release to reassure myself that this was a crime debut, so convinced was I that I’d missed a previous book.
But back to the story, which is skilfully plotted and populated with a fine cast of characters. The backdrop of Ireland’s current financial crisis is a telling and important one, because we get to see it from the viewpoint of the haves – such as odious estate agent Pat Foley, a Silvio Berlusconi lookalike who has friends in high places – and the have-nots, like Sean Doran and his wife Lisa Marie. They live on a ghost estate, in a property that is in negative equity and has rising damp because it was built on a flood plain. They have no jobs since the local hotel where they worked closed down without warning. Foley and the Dorans both have links to the dead man, but were they involved in his murder?
The Crocodile Tears of the title refer to a side-effect of Bell’s Palsy, which may cause the sufferer to cry when eating or drinking, but there are crocodile tears aplenty shed by a whole gaggle of folk who have something to hide. I loved the process of solving the case but felt the weight of characterisation tended to overbalance the story. Hopefully a second Woods and Troy book will take a lighter approach.
CRL Rating: 3 Stars