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by Mark Billingham
William Morrow & Co., July 2002
343 pages
ISBN: 0066212995

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sleepyhead is a medical thriller, a police procedural, a psychological suspense novel. It chills and it warms, it's dark and light, thrilling and thoughtful. But none of that describes it adequately. What it is most of all is a really, really good book.

A serial killer is quietly murdering women in London by manipulating their necks to induce a stroke. It's only thanks to an eagle eyed pathologist that the murderer's crimes come to light. When the police discover a fourth victim, one who didn't die, they believe the killer has made his first mistake. Alison Willetts is lying in a hospital bed, the victim of locked-in syndrome casued by the stroke. She can see and hear and smell and, above all, think; unfortunately she's unable to move, or let people know she's still there, inside. She's in a twilight world between sleep and wakefulness - and between life and death. However, the police soon come to the horrifying conclusion that Alison wasn't the killer's first mistake - she's his first success.

The plot is really original. It's much more than a book about a serial killer. There are twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until the end and it's an extremely well-crafted and well written book. However, for me, the main draw of this book was the portrayal of the characters. Sleepyhead is the first book in a series featuring DI Tom Thorne. He's a likeable and believable character, a good cop and a nice bloke; one you would want on your side. He has his flaws and makes mistakes - and admits to them. As he gets to know Alison, he becomes obsessed with the case and the killer.

As for Alison - Mark Billingham does a superb job of bringing her character to life, despite the fact that she's in a coma and can't speak. Every so often she has little internal monologues which reveal her character and her views of the people and world around her. She is touching and funny and strong. She's also angry and fed up and upset at times. For me, these bits really made the book. Sleepyhead is, essentially, a very dark book. Without Alison's commentary I think it could have been too bleak, and an altogether different book. Alison's commentary makes the book warm and human.

I loved this book. It will definitely be one of my top reads of 2002.

Editor's Note: This is a review of the UK edition. Publisher: Little, Brown

Copyright: 16 Aug 2001

ISBN: 0316856967 (Trade Paperback)

List Price: 9.99

Reviewed by Donna Moore, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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