As soon as I held Crocodile Tears (Transworld Ireland) in my hands in Dubray Books I liked the look of it: the old, faded penciled image and text at the back, the creamy pages within and the clean-numbered (and short) chapters.
And the content didn’t disappoint. Author Mark O’Sullivan is clearly a talented writer – honed, no doubt, from his previous works. He has previously published three pre-teen and one adult book, which won awards here and abroad. His work in radio drama, short stories and poetry show in this fine novel, bulging as it is with handsome descriptions of scenes and characters.
The opening chapter, where the body of a property developer is found dead, sets the scene nicely…”Attenboy House was a two-storey limestone pile, solid, undistinguished and lodged toad-like on the receding gradient. Its eight-window span suggested an ancient vigilance while the twin-columned portico announced its original owner’s arrival at prosperity back in the 1890s. In the foggy beyonds lay a walled garden, a heather-and-furze-clad cliff, and a cold sea.”
The second draw – and the main one – is the protagonist, Detective Inspector Leo Woods. Yes, he’s a complicated man, with a troubled past and strained relationship with colleagues and all the usual.
But the author has crafted a character that is both believable and engaging. And I’m not talking about the eccentric, bordering on outlandish, aspects – his obsession with, and collection of, masks from around the world, his facial disfigurement from Bell’s Palsy, his malaria battles and spooky times in deepest Africa while serving with the UN and his drug habit. Actually, for me, there was an overload here, although the masks were used nicely to highlight the black farce of Woods’ life.
What grabbed me was his cutting, witty dialogue, particularly when questioning people, and his jaded/half-cracked personality. I know more than one detective who act and talk like Woods. There are a number of occasions when Woods accepts he’s behaving like a bit of a bollocks, but explains wearily that’s what his job entails – hounding people, including those in the throws of bereavement, for scraps of information.
But there’s a humanity to him too and Chapter 38 is particularly moving when he finds two bodies…. “Think, Leo told himself. Don’t let this tragic couple down. Everyone else has.”
The novel is set against the backdrop of the great crash – to property and the lives of those crushed and mutilated under it.
O’Sullivan builds up the tension nicely – both in the thickening plot and internally in the characters, particularly Woods. Although a hefty enough book, it is a quick read.
The range of characters (and there are a lot) are, in the main, well developed, but I wished I could have got more into the second main character, Det Sgt Helen Troy. For me, it was hit-and-miss with her.
The constant changes in point of view jarred, with jumps within scenes and at times even within paragraphs. Now, I’m just a wannabe writer, and, no doubt, he, and the publisher, and other writers, feel it isn’t a problem, but it did distract me. Also, the ending didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
These issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to Woods Part II.