O’Sullivan had me at page one and then after that the hooks were set and never let go. The authenticity of the setting and the grit of the period – it was easy to imagine myself in Michael Gallagher’s shoes, patrolling the streets of Shanghai as a constable in the Shanghai Municipal Police. All Michael Gallagher wanted when he signed on for overseas duty was to make a reputation for himself so that he’d be respected among the gentry in Ireland. What he ended up with was much much more.The haunting of a boyhood love for a girl named Fiona and the sense of loss that accompanied the severing of all ties to the home of his youth in Ireland, Gallagher wrestles with his conscience with each turn of the plot.
O’Sullivan is a masterful story teller with keen insight into the gangster culture of the inter-war years of Shanghai (circa 1929-late’30s). His writing craft is top notch with place descriptions that transcend time and bring the reader close enough to the action to hear, smell and feel the tension. Written in the first person, O’Sullivan’s protagonist takes the reader on a noir style adventure. Whether with another encounter with Big Ears Lu and a foray into the House of Joy, Gallagher finds himself in the center of everything. From his early trials after meeting Mariam to his re-acquaintance with Jamie Flyte, as a war unfolds in the region, Katya enters the story and Gallagher finds himself on yet again another winding adventure, culminating in the unraveling of a mystery that leads to a most satisfying conclusion. Michael Gallagher is a character that will stay in your mind after reading the last sentence.
O’Sullivan knows his stuff and clearly has a grasp of this genre that is refreshing to read. I especially enjoyed gaining a sense of history the easy way. Through Gallagher’s eyes, I got a sense of what it would be to experience Shanghai during a pivotal period. I sure hope he has another one coming out soon!