“The Dead Won’t Sleep” tells the story of Rosie Gilmore, a journalist with a Glasgow newspaper in the 1990s, who is working on two major stories: linking the death of a fourteen year old prostitute to corrupt senior police officers in Glasgow CID, and the systematic exploitation of children in care by a cadre of rich and powerful pedophiles.
One of the things that makes this book work is that Rosie Gilmore is a journalist, not a Police Officer. She is there to report on crime, not to fight it.This gives the story a very different, less black and white, perspective than a normal police procedural novel.
Rosie understands how her city works, she just doesn’t accept that it should work that way in secret.
She knows the reality of the young women selling themselves on the freezing streets of Glasgow to make enough to buy the drugs they are addicted to. She knows that some of the police come from an old-school tradition of using violence to deal with thugs who get out of line, while accepting cash, drugs and women as payoffs from organized crime to look the other way. Her passion is to find the stories that will make what she knows mean something to everyone else.
Rosie’s pursuit of the two high-profile stories puts her at significant personal risk and takes over her life to an extent that cannot credibly be explained by professional dedication to journalism. Rosie has two things that drive her to continue: one is a personal connection to a child snared by the paedophiles, the other is a consequence of her own, less than idyllic childhood. The relationship with the child is very believable. The girl is bright and loving and ignorant and very vulnerable. Rosie is hooked but understands the limits of her own willingness and ability to be involved.Rosie’s past is more complicated as a driver and all more satisfying for that. Rosie isn’t a cardboard cut-out crusader. She is a woman wedded to a job that gives her something that she needs (although she’s reluctant to explore the what and the why of that). She doesn’t wrap herself in righteousness and feel invulnerable. She knows that what she writes will be chip-paper the next day and she is deeply afraid when her life is in danger.
What made this book stand out for me is the matter-of-fact, unsensational way that Anna Smith, formerly a crime reporter in Glasgow, presents a believable picture of Glasgow as a broken city that no-one really wants to fix. There is a very strong sense of place and a deep empathy for the people, from the corrupt policemen through to the drug-addicted prostitutes, that is based on understanding rather than moral judgement. The dialogue is perfect, with nuanced speech patterns that enrich the character building rather than just moving the plot along. It makes for a grim read at times that goes beyond the bounds of entertainment and turns the book into something more serious.
If you have the choice, listen to the audiobook version of “The Dead Don’t Sleep”. Sarah Barron’s narration makes the most of Anna Smith’s wonderful dialogue. She gives the characters distinctive voices that bring them to life.