Billingham, Mark. Sleepyhead.

NY: Morrow, 2001.

I read a number of book review media on a regular basis, keeping an eye out for newly published books to add to my reading list. I especially watch for enthusiastic reviews of new writers, those no one has ever heard of before. And I’ve been doing all this for a long time. So how in the world did I miss hearing about this one? As a police procedural murder mystery, it’s very, very good. As a first novel, it’s bloody amazing.Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is a middle-aged, rather old-fashioned sort of London copper. Except in the area of pop music, where he’s way ahead of the curve. Being something of a loose cannon — following procedure only when he finds it useful and not above harassing suspects with anonymous phone calls — he’s frequently a trial to his colleagues and especially to his superiors. And he’s presently involved in a case that brings all his personal and professional demons bubbling to the surface. Three young women have died by induced stroke at the hands of a medically very knowledgeable killer. A fourth, Allison, has survived but now suffers not from a coma but from “locked-in syndrome” — perfectly alert mentally but unable to move, to speak, or to communicate except by blinking. And then Thorne receives a message informing him that Allison was the psychopath’s success, that her paralytic state is what he was aiming for all along. This is a perfectly horrific notion and Billingham develops it fully and remorselessly. He’s also a natural at character development, laying out a little more of someone’s personality here and there only as the reader needs to know about it. And he’s very, very good at stringing the reader along, making one suspect a red herring where there is none, making it appear almost obvious who the killer is, right up to last few pages. He certainly had me going; none of the three or four suspects I was most strongly considering turned out to be the Bad Guy. But the best character of all is Allison, with her interior monologues and irreverent observations of those around her. I’m definitely going to be seeking out Billingham’s subsequent work.

Published in: on 20 January 2010 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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