Mark Billingham Sleepyhead

ISBN 13: 9780061032219

Sleepyhead

3.83 avg rating
( 9,521 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780061032219: Sleepyhead

It's rare for a young woman to die from a stroke and when three such deaths occur in short order it starts to look like an epidemic. Then a sharp pathologist notices traces of benzodiazepine in one of the victim's blood samples and just traceable damage to the ligaments in her neck, and their cause of death is changed from 'natural' to murder.

The police aren't making much progress in their hunt for the killer until he appears to make a mistake: Alison Willetts is found alive and D.I. Tom Thorne believes the murderer has made a mistake, which ought to allow them to get on his tracks. But it was the others who were his mistakes: he doesn't want to take life, he just wants to put people into a state where they cannot move, cannot talk, cannot do anything but think.

When Thorne, helped by the neurologist looking after Alison, starts to realise what he is up against he knows the case is not going to be solved by normal methods - before he can find out who did it he has to understand why he's doing it.

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Review:

The art of inducing fear in a reader via the printed page is a speciality of only a few skilled craftsmen. Mark Billingham is such an author, and Sleepy Head is such a book. The blurb on the jacket warns that we are in for a disturbing experience and that is precisely what we get: "He doesn't want you alive. He doesn't want you dead. He wants you somewhere in between".

The killer who Billingham's protagonist Tom Thorne is up against is a particularly creepy specimen: he has savagely killed three victims but his fourth, although alive, is perhaps not so fortunate. She has undergone a deliberately induced stroke and although all her senses are intact, she is totally unable to move or communicate. This hideous condition, called Locked-in Syndrome is, however, quite possibly the killer's first miscalculation ... or is it? Soon the dogged Thorne (given to distrusting his own abilities) is playing a cat-and-mouse game with a psychopathic killer. And the brilliant and sadistic killer is just as interested in leading Thorne a merry dance as he is in fulfilling his degraded obsessions.

All characterisations here are spot-on, even the killer (although one wonders just how many more hyper-intelligent psychopaths readers will be prepared to take) while the British setting is handled with intelligence, the horrific set pieces with real élan:

His head moved up, through the hole and into bright white light. He blinked quickly to adjust and opened his eyes. Thorne's last thought, before his body turned ice cold and began to shake quietly, was that he'd been right to be afraid...
--Barry Forshaw

Review:

Disturbing and thrilling, with memorable characters and bundles of atmosphere. --Guardian

Mark Billingham has leapt to the upper echelons of British crime writing in a single bound. --John Harvey

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