Sleep No More by Iris Johansen
Writing teams are relatively unusual. Whereas we routinely accept the idea that squads of people can sit in rooms and churn out television series, and smaller groups can write and rewrite film scripts, we seem to prefer the idea that one mind is best when it comes to writing fiction. Although, in some cases, there are all these quietly acknowledged people who read drafts and explain how stuff works and then edit the book before it goes to the printer. It’s just that authors believe their names are the brand that sells the books and they don’t need lots of other people’s names clouding the issue. That’s why Charles Todd is interesting. There are some fifteen novels featuring Ian Rutledge, Scotland Yard’s finest, and not only is Charles Todd American, he’s also a mother/son writing team. So a while back, I read Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen, another mother/son team. Now to continue my investigation comes Sleep No More by Iris Johansen on her own, which is particularly fascinating because it includes a fairly important role for the team character Kendra Michaels. It seems the mother can use the jointly created character in her ongoing series featuring Eve Duncan and Joe Quinn. Of course, I’m comfortable with the notion of the shared universe in which groups of writers pick and mix characters and situations from central casting. Lovecraftian fiction has been around for decades and, from the world of comics comes the Marvel and DC stables of heroes and villains, closely followed by film and television series which have overlapping characters and story arcs. The idea of Kendra Michaels turning up in an Eve Duncan book seems perfectly reasonable once mother and son have resolved the cross-licensing issues.
To get the best out of this book, you need a reasonable amount of background information. When still a teenager, Eve had an illegitimate child called Bonnie who later went missing. Joe Quinn, ex-FBI and now police detective, was there almost immediately after Bonnie went missing. After the usual emotional problems in their failure to find Bonnie, they became lovers. But Eve never gave up. Indeed, it would be fair to say she had an obsession to find out what happened to her daughter. By training to become a forensic sculptor, she became an expert in finding other children and people who had gone missing. All this came to the fore in the trilogy of books when Bonnie’s body was finally discovered and the search for her killer reached its climax. Now Eve discovers she has a previously unknown step-sister. Against this emotional background, you will therefore understand Eve’s determination to find this person. She may have failed to find her own illegitimate daughter alive, but she’s determined nothing will happen to Beth.
So what’s good about this? We’ve got a clearly defined scenario. All the major elements fit together to make a coherent story with a clever reason for Beth being able to escape from the mental hospital in which she’s being against her will. This may not sound such a “good” thing but, if you read as many books as I do, you’d understand how often writers fail to produce a credible plot. But the use of the word “credible” does signal a slight problem with the characters. There’s a lot of corruption on display here and, once the plot really gets underway, there’s quite a significant body count. Although I’m not going to stick my neck out and say all this couldn’t be arranged, it’s moderately spectacular. And although those responsible may be correct that their money and status will enable them to avoid any comeback, there could still be some very difficult-to-answer questions asked in the public domain. I’m slightly on the fence about it. The inevitable psycho-killer who threatens our heroes is reasonably competent and increasingly motivated to take revenge for being made to look amateurish. That’s a success. The other male minions are suitably limited but they’ve prospered because no-one with intelligence and gumption has been able to challenge them. All this feels realistic.
But I’m not quite so sure about the forces of light. Joe seems to be on detached leave and able to sweet-talk his way around the country. Curiously, there seems no threat to prosecute him for the various crimes he commits. Similarly, Eve and Kendra are teflon-coated, presumably because there’s slightly less evidence of their criminal activities. I suppose everything is fair in this “fight fire with fire” approach to crime-fighting with the surviving “baddies” able to hold the threat of prosecution should the “goodies” get a bit too uppity. Hmmm. In this increasingly shades-of-grey world we see in straight and political thrillers, we’re invited to accept the moral relativism of the heroes as the price of their success. Putting this to one side, the only element I found annoying was the faintly supernatural insistence on telepathy and communion with the dead. I understand how this all fits together with the death of Bonnie but I prefer my thrillers to remain reasonable pure and unadulterated by paranormal “happenings”.
On balance, Close Your Eyes is a high-class thriller with plenty of excitement as our heroes survive and prosper against the odds. It’s also interesting to see the interaction between the long-running series character Eve and the newly introduced Kendra. The latter is less deductive but does her human bloodhound act rather well. She’s a good additional member for the team, no matter who does the writing.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.