Sometimes it’s useful to be reminded why I started reading crime fiction in the first place. Over the years, as I’ve read more books and discovered new writers and sub-genres, I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of crime novels. Characterisation and location play an important role in what I choose to read, as does plot which I’ve noticed has become more and more complex, away from the traditional whodunnits of the classic crime era. However, what I once loved about crime novels when I started reading them as a teenager, was their sheer readability. I used to pick up a book and read it all the way through and look up and a couple of hours had gone by. Now that is no longer possible with the demands of home and work, and also, I thought, because books have increased in length so significantly. However, last week I read three books in a row that had that ‘unputdownable’ factor and one book, in particular, I read straight through (with a couple of tea stops). This was Tom Grieves excellent début novel Sleepwalkers.
Ben is an ordinary family man who keep experiencing violent dreams and has unexplained gaps in his childhood and more recent memories. His wife, Carrie, is supportive and reassuring but he is plagued by the conviction that something is wrong in his psyche. As his paranoia increases he is forced to confront the veracity of his own identity. Toby is a schoolboy also experiencing violent dreams and missing pieces of his memory. His parents repeatedly change his school rather than confront his problems. However in his latest school, his teacher, Anna, decides to take an interest in his case and the complicated lives of Ben and Toby suddenly converge.
The book starts out in traditional thriller mode, with a strong sense of the sinister and the dream and memory elements of Ben and Toby possibly having a supernatural cause. Happily (without giving too much of the plot away) this doesn’t turn out to be the case and the book explores instead the idea of a society within a society where a mixture of Orwellian forces and medical advances make it possible for a smoke and mirrors deception on a grand scale. It’s a very difficult book to review in detail without giving essentials of the plot away. However, I can say that although I’m not up on scientific processes I thought the whole concept fascinating and compelling.
The book is predicated on the idea that no-one is really who they seem. The writing and narrative style reminded me of the books of Michael Marshall (Smith) and I think this novel would appeal to his fans. Grieves, according to his biography, has worked in television as a script editor and producer and this novel started out as a script for TV that he couldn’t sell. A quick scan through Goodreads and Amazon reviews reveal that many people, as I did, picked up the book and couldn’t put it down which gives an idea of the compelling nature of the story. I hope that this will be the start of a successful novel writing career for Grieves.