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by Mark O'Sullivan
Transworld Ireland, April 2013
352 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 1848271557

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It seems to be fashionable for all detective heroes to have either a physical or mental disability. Award winning children's author Mark O'Sullivan hammers home the point in his first venture into adult crime by giving his ageing DI Leo Woods Bells' palsy, then adding malaria, a drug habit, post-traumatic stress disorder and a less than spotless record. His obsession is a collection of masks make what you like of that! Taken together, Woods makes Wallander seem positively normal and Morse a version of The Laughing Cavalier.

In fact if there is an overall criticism of this memorable and gripping debut it is just that. There is too much of everything horrifically brutal killings which border on sadistic fantasies, a tortuous plot which stretches the imagination to its limits and not a single character without enough flaws to keep a psychiatrists' conference in session for years.

Yet Leo Woods is a memorable character, raised above the ordinary by some brilliant, often sublime writing, elegantly stylish, clever in execution and punctuated with dark humour and some striking and even lyrical metaphors.

When a property tycoon is found in his own home with his head beaten in during the bitter winter of 2010 at the height of the misery of the Irish recession, Woods quickly discovers he has more suspects than clues. With his new sergeant, the bright and ambitious Helen Troy what were her parents thinking of? he weaves his way through a tangled mess of corruption, lies, misery and violence to a shocking, if unsatisfactory from a policing point of view, conclusion.

Despite his faults, Woods is a shrewd judge of human nature, drawing on his experience of policing in various world trouble spots, One of the real joys of this almost relentlessly gritty story is observing Woods' interplay both with his colleagues particularly a young detective who is an irritating reminder of his own younger days and his ambitious boss with whom he clearly has a difficult past and the people he has to investigate. The dialogue is always realistic and the characterisation, given the collection of misfits, failures and psychologically damaged which O'Sullivan presents, absolutely spot on.

A more than satisfactory debut which at times borders on real literary brilliance, but having packed so much into this, it's hard to see where Woods, or his creator, can go from here.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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