Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.
First of all in the interest of full disclosure, this reviewer is not to the best of her knowledge related to the novelist. The world is riddled with Sullivans and O’Sullivans (blame those long cold County Cork nights). So I’m resting easy Mark O’Sullivan is no long-lost cousin.
His Dublin based DI Leo Woods is not resting and his life is not an easy one. A onetime UN inspector, Woods has lost an eye and finds himself stumbling literally and figuratively through the plot of Sleeping Dogs. His wrong turns are not just from the poor vision but also from deceits and lies he encounters in a dual track investigation of a young girl’s disappearance and a hit and run accident. Regular crime fiction readers will quickly cotton that the two are linked.
It takes Woods a bit longer but the four-day adventure is an enjoyable one. And it is a personal one – In the hospital, adjacent to the victim of the car accident lies old nemesis Harry Larkin, an old-style crime boss (I’m already casting Brendan Gleeson). Larkin has a soft side where his daughter Whitney is concerned and she is the missing woman whom Larkin begs Woods to search for.
Larkin and Woods have more than a passing acquaintance. They’ve met from their positions on opposite ends of the crime/punishment divide and to keep matters spicy, Woods once did the down and dirty with Liz Larkin, wife of Harry, mother to Whitney.
The chase take Woods and his fellow officers through some of Dublin’s grimier and better manicured areas, with a strong focus on the neighbourhoods frequented by young hot-bloods such as Whitney Larkin.
The plot is grounded in time throughout its 100 or so hours. O’Sullivan adds immediacy by having televisions tuned to events in Egypt and Libya. That device adds a realism and an urgency to the story by making it very much of our day. It may also be that Middle East unrest has an impact on the plot points….
Much of the action takes place in or near the ICU. Despite that and other grubby and unsavoury settings there are lovely lyrical spurts. Toward the end of the novel, Woods muses on “love and disrespect…the very fuel of unhappy families.” At one point, O’Sullivan refers to “tired crestfallen woods,” and the reader is there in those woods with him. So we are with him in the hospital, police station and Woods’ other haunts. Though Woods does get very personal with a nurse from the hospital, this is a sad book. It is full of damaged people, Woods has his bum eye, another character is deaf, another has kyphosis. But these are believable damaged people, not straw men and women flopped into the plot to make a point about human misery.
There is also much humour in Sleeping Dogs, including a running (but not overdone) gag about hard men movie actors being mistaken for other hard men movie actors, with references to Liam Neeson, Lee Marvin and Kevin Costner – frankly pretty interchangeable hard men actors.
The ending ties up neatly, if not happily, and this is a bit of Dublin life I look forward to revisiting in the next Leo Woods novel.