[Mystery] Review: NO SLEEP TILL WONDERLAND

20 06 2010

Once again it’s time to brush the cobwebs off this blog. I’m still finding it necessary to let others do the heavy lifting, so here is another guest review from the depths of my e-mail.

This is written by Frank Raymond Michaels, writer of horror and dark fantasy; his website can be found at frankraymondmichaels.com and he blogs at locomotive-poe.livejournal.com.

Take it away, Frank.

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No Sleep Till Wonderland by Paul Tremblay
2010, Holt Paperbacks
ISBN978-0-8050-8850-2

Mark Genevich is a Private Eye on a case. He’s not a very good private eye; his business is faltering, his landlord mother requires him to take group therapy sessions as a condition of his lease, and he’s just bungled his latest case by following the wrong woman for last two nights. It’s not all his fault; you see, Mark Genevich is a narcoleptic. What that means is he can fall asleep at any time without warning, or slip from wakefulness into a dream state without noticing the transition. When a suspicious new acquaintance gives him a job protecting a young woman from a stalker, Mark is sucked into a whirlwind of arson, murder, and blackmail from which he’ll be lucky to escape with his life.

So begins No Sleep Till Wonderland, the sequel to Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep. This is a delightful little thriller that reads like a 40’s noir mystery recast with a gaggle of contemporary Boston neurotics (any story that begins with the main characters meeting at a group therapy session should tell you what you are in for). Semi-conscious gumshoe Mark Genevich is the star, we spend half the book inside his fuzzy head, listening to his interior monologue as he wrestles with the ghosts of his past and the demons of his present; he’s witty, morose, hopeful, cynical, and insightful in phases, but overall he’s a likeable smart-ass who bulls onward despite the odds, and we root for him. Tremblay’s prose is peppered with gallows humor, pop-culture references, and snapshots of life in Boston. He puts you right into the thick of things, sweltering in the July heat, stumbling along the streets of Bean Town, viewing the world through his protagonist’s heavy eyelids.

The book is more character-driven than plot-driven, and the characters in No Sleep are drawn from real life; Tremblay’s PI doesn’t swim among the high-and-mighty. These are regular folk — if anything, they’re denizens of the lowest tier of our Great Society, bottom-feeders, broken people in and out of trouble with the law and social services, living on a crisis curve of desperation. Even the nastiest of them are petty criminals dragged along by events that get out of control.

And events certainly, alarmingly, get out of control. One of the fun things about reading No Sleep is just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s going, it pulls you in a completely different direction, and even our hero Mark Genevich, has, at best, a marginal grip on everything that’s going on. As he’s told by the local detective: “You’re simultaneously on the outskirts and in the middle of the whole mess.” The plot twists, playing out like a Greek tragedy, and there were some shocking moments toward the end that made me go back and re-read them to make sure I’d read them right.

I enjoyed the time I spent between the pages of No Sleep Till Wonderland, with Paul Tremblay’s circus of offbeat losers and his flawed hero. This is a truly original mystery novel that defies the genre.

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Feedback for Frank can be left at frm@edgecliffabbey.com.

Thanks for reading!

—pmc2

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