This is the second "Irene Kelly" from Jan Burke, who eventually went on to win an Edgar award for "Bones". Kelly began life in "Goodnight, Irene" as a reporter in the city of "Las Piernas" ("The Legs") on the coast south of Los Angeles. Kelly is the most assault prone reporter in the world leaving out Colombia and Chechniya. We have a newscaster in Chicago named Russ Ewing who has become the guy that accused killers call up to turn themselves in to so the police don't kill them. He has had something like 50 or 70 accused killers turn themselves in to him and hasn't been wounded once, yet Irene sustains more injuries than James Garner did in "The Rockford Files". Go figure.
Anyway, I wrote an Amazon review of "Goodnight, Irene" in which I identified many "beginners' faults" of detective writing. The good news is that "Sweet Dreams" corrects many of these faults and is thus a significant improvement over her first volume. I will take credit for this myself when I figure out how she read my review in 1993.
To begin with, the plot, which involves real or imagined Satanist activity at election time, is a lot more original and better designed than in her first work. Irene has stopped riding around in the cop car with her beau Frank all the time, which was an improbable feature of "Goodnight." She does more actual detection here than there. She tosses the blood around with less slapdash abandon in this book, although there's still room for improvement. For example, when a bloody human heart turns up, it doesn't get the attention that it really should, you know? The police test it to confirm that it's really human blood, but there doesn't seem to be much interest in WHOSE heart it is, etc., particularly considering that they should be able to make the same guess that the reader does.
One carry-over from the first book is that Irene is still prone to falling into stupid traps, as Frank points out:
"Why the hell did you go out to that field that night?"
"I've asked myself that question many times."
"I just don't understand it. You're smart. But I swear to God, Irene, sometimes you do something so..."
"Stupid," I finished quietly.
Well, *sigh* knowing you have a problem is the first step. Also, I have to say that the action flags a bit about three quarters of the way through, and after that there is some Penguin's Folly stuff. I just now invented that term. "Penguin's Folly" is from the 1960's Batman TV series, which was on for two half-hour segments per week. At the end of the Tuesday night segment, the Penguin (or whoever) would tie Batman and Robin to a death machine, and then RUN OFF AND LEAVE THEM UNATTENDED. Every time. And then at the beginning of the Thursday night segment, Batman and Robin would get out of it. Hence the term, "Penguin's Folly."
I also have to say that Kelly is not nearly so well-described or deep a character as she could be; she doesn't seem to have much in the way of higher interests, other than reporting, Frank's body, and staying alive. This has something to do with the breakneck style that Burke is using in these early volumes (she may change later), where you have not much chance to catch your breath, and the text is full of elaborate "detective story style" metaphors the way a box of Ghirardelli's chocolates is full of grams of fat.
So there's still room for improvement in this volume, but the learning curve from "Goodnight, Irene" to this one is encouraging, and in fact her third volume, "Dear Irene", is better yet.