Sleepyhead: He Doesn't Want You Alive. He Doesn't Want You Dead Paperback – Aug 16 2001
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
In a variation on the serial killer theme, newcomer Billingham's villain doesn't want to actually kill his victims (those who do die he considers mistakes ) so much as induce massive strokes that will leave them cerebrally conscious while otherwise in a completely comatose state known as locked-in syndrome. Combining elements of both police and medical procedural thriller, the novel follows frayed, middle-aged London detective inspector Tom Thorne as he chases down a series of red herrings, gradually becoming more and more obsessed with the killer's masterpiece, 24-year-old Alison Willetts, and the seductive doctor, Anne Coburn, who cares for her. This romantic subplot becomes entwined with the main plot as Anne's colleague and paramour, Dr. Jeremy Bishop (whose amusement with Thorne's growing infatuation with Anne reveals a particular sort of passive-aggressive sadism), fuels Thorne's rising suspicion of him with verbal jousts. Billingham, a TV writer and stand-up comic, manifests a competent enough hand with plotting and dialogue, particularly at romantic moments ( Now, this carpet has unhappy memories and I'm still not hundred percent sure I've got the smell of vomit out of it... You smooth-talking bastard ). Overall, he displays a solid grasp of the form, though not at the gut-wrenching level of such peers as Mo Hayder. Billingham excels in characterization, however, and it's likely that readers will develop empathy for his conflicted protagonist and the compassionate physician who takes justice into her own hands.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Detective Inspector Tom Thorne gets involved with a number of murders that are seemingly random until they find a "failed" attempt. The victim who survived is completely paralyzed due to a stroke, and Thorne figures out that she was actually the "success" of the killer. It turns out that the killer is really trying to "liberate" women from their bodies, leaving the only thing he values... their minds. He deliberately induces a stroke by physical manipulation of certain blood vessels, nerves and muscles. Thorne thinks he knows who is doing the killing, but his evidence against him keeps coming up short. The mental games between Thorne and his suspect grow more intense until Thorne is ready to admit defeat. But the story comes to a dramatic end with a final confrontation with a number of lives on the line.
As I mentioned above, the story is very dark. Not only is the subject matter intense (a killer wanting to turn his victims into vegetables, not corpses), but Thorne is a damaged individual with a lot of personal and emotional baggage. The author is English, so there are a number of slang phrases that American readers will have to think about in order to follow the conversation. And even though you think you know who the killer is, you just know there's going to be a twist somewhere.
Well written, and very different.... I look forward to his future work.
Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is confronted with a serial killer whose aim is not to "kill" but render his victims powerless to move or speak, yet remain fully conscious. So far, he has had one "success," Allison Willetts, who is under the care of neurologist Anne Coburn. Thorne becomes dead certain he has the killer identified, but has no proof. Things become awkward indeed, when the suspect turns out to be a life-long friend of Dr. Coburn who Thorne is beginning to admire. An unusual literary device has each chapter beginning with the italicized thoughts of Allison, who cannot communicate. You become increasingly fond of this brave and spirited girl with an offbeat sense of humor who is suffering this terrible misfortune.
I don't know if I have ever heard of a crime novelist getting his start as a stand-up comic, but Mr. Billingham makes the most of his background by supplying excellent dialogue:
"Thorne raised his eyebrows. "Do women still get upset if you ask how old they are?" She plonked an elbow on the table and leaned her chin on the palm of her hand, trying her best to look severe. "This one does."
"Sorry" Thorne tried his best to look contrite. "How much do you weigh?"
No matter how serious the rest of the book, I had to stop and laugh at the offbeat lines Mr. Billingham fed Thorne. "Sleepyhead" is a fresh inventive debut with a satisfying twist worthy of a veteran.
In short, it signposts amazing talent.
The plot is great...its really original, and very compelling. shadows of a motive are given all the way throughout the book, WHAT the killer wants, and a hint or two about why he wants, but Billingham doesnt fully discolse the killers motivations until the end. And the killer himself is chilling...what he seeks to do to his victims is horrifying.
The plot is well paced, and the characters are drawn very well. Tom Thorne is a likeable, very human man, dirven by failures from his past. (Arent they all.) An able hero, his intelligence is high, but when no one listens to him when he tells them who he thinks the killer is, he is at a loss for what to do, and pursues his enquiries doggedly, despite the marked disbelief of others.
His relationship with Anne Coburn is great, freshens up the material and adds a really interesting subplot. The reader roots for the two characters to suceed in their relationship, such do we care about and like them.
The plotting is tight, and the book subtly turns its way towards a great conclusion.
I can't wait to read "Scaredy Cat."
What is it about British mystery authors cranking out excellent first novels? Nicci French, Mo Hayder, and Minette Walters have all waltzed down the pike in the last decade and taken the world by storm. Now you can add Mark Billingham to the list.
Billingham's first novel, Sleepyhead, is about a truly twisted individual, even more twisted than Hayder's birdman-this one's dead bodies are failed experiments. What he's really after, he gets in Alison Willetts, a girl who is mysteriously left at a hospital suffering from what is known as locked-in syndrome, a type of stroke that leaves the victim fully conscious, but paralyzed and unable to communicate. The police find an ever-growing string of bodies as the killer attempts to duplicate his handiwork.
Very well-paced for a book of its length, and very readable. Billingham knows where to put all the twists and turns. The characters are a little more wooden than one would expect, and a bit more predictable, but then mystery readers have been spoiled recently. (Odd, because Billingham has one of his characters remark early on that he doesn't fir the policeman-on-television stereotype; perhaps we're just used to that these days?) Still, this is a fast, fun read with some excellent twists. *** ½
As this is a debut, I know it takes time but for some reason I just didn’t get to grips with him that much. He is a D.I who takes his job seriously and in this current book it seems we are getting to know Thorne and the demons that he is battling (due to an earlier case). When Alison Willetts is found alive, following three murders, Tom finally feels like this is the break they needed. Sadly, and one of the most interesting elements of this book, is that although Alison lived, she has been left with ‘locked-in syndrome’. Alison knows exactly what is going on and is fully functional, she just can’t communicate. This in itself made a refreshing change to read about as it’s something that is scary and also something I’ve not read about before.
The other thing I loved about this was that I spent literally the whole book questioning everything. Were my suspicions right? Was Throne wrong? Was he losing his marbles? Who else is shady? Yep, pretty much the standard thought process for many I would imagine. That alone is always a bonus as it feels like you are as in the dark as the D.I. I wouldn’t say this book was particularly gruesome, but there is an element of ‘fear’ about it. You know that shiver down your back type of fear you get? Yep, that one! Overall for the first in the series and his debut, it was a corker. The fact that I am 13 years behind everybody else means I have some serious catching up to do, and I have to say I’m rather looking forward to it!