Review: Sheehan’s Dog by Les Roberts

Les Roberts’s latest hard-boiled crime novel introduces Brock Sheehan.

Sheehan sits on his houseboat in a Lake Erie marina ten years after retiring as a persuader for the Irish organization on the west side of Cleveland. He drinks Bushmill’s Black and lets the days pass.

His past intrudes in the form of Linus Callahan, a nephew he hasn’t seen since the nephew was a kid, and who has become a “person of interest” in the recent murder of an Ohio State University basketball legend. The legend had just signed a lucrative contract with the Denver Nuggets—after serving three years in prison, right after graduation, for running dog fights and for cruelty to animals. Now someone has cut his neck. Sheehan observes Linus’s approach to his houseboat:

A sudden wind gust from the lake rocked the boat—Mother Nature’s preview of weather as fall crept toward winter. He shifted in his deck chair for comfort, and noticed someone walking down the dock toward him, a large dog trotting at his side.

The young man had reddish-brown hair and a certain swagger, but he didn’t look tough—just a kid who wished he were a tough guy. The round Irish face topped a body like a track athlete’s, probably a hundred-yarder. He didn’t seem to be a football player or heavyweight boxer—too slim to last long in hand-to-hand combat, and had about him an ambience of innocence and purity.

Linus, enraged at the star’s animal cruelty and his effort to hit on Linus’s girlfriend, had been in an alteraction with the large basketballer the night before the murder. He begs Sheehan to find the real killer. Having no experience investigating murder and, after ten year, few current contacts in Cleveland, Sheehan reluctantly agrees—for “family.”

I was struck after several hours spent reading this book by how well it is written. The read is smooth and pleasant (even though the story isn’t pleasant). The language is fresh. The descriptions and characterization are concise and revealing. Roberts’s writing struck me particularly because I’ve been busy scanning mystery and crime stories on Amazon’s “Look Inside,” trying to identify possible “comps” for the novel I’m writing. (Sheehan’s Dog is not a true comp to my novel.) I don’t even make it through the “Look Inside” sample of many of the books. The writing is too often banal and/or hyped and/or just plain awkward and choppy. But Les Roberts writes like the pro he is.

Sheehan’s Dog is not part of Roberts’s Milan Jacovich series, but there’s a link in Cleveland Detective Sargent Tobe Blain.

As I noted, the story is not pleasant, so it won’t be for everyone. There is murder; there is rape; there are beatings; there is dog fighting and animal abuse. (The beatings are on the page; the other crimes mostly exist off the page, by reference.)