Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Innocent Sleep.
While I am usually unwilling to entertain a novel written by more than one author, I found The Innocent Sleep, the joint effort of Karen Gillece and Paul Perry, so seamlessly wrought that the plot has not suffered from its dual creation. Two authors’ voices often turn me against a novel, my trust in the authority of a story tainted by suspicion of ineptitude or manipulation. Like Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Gillece and Perry have proven themselves capable of joint cooperation, creating a believable and unsettling tale.
Though it begins in Tangiers in 2005, where artists Harry and Robin Lonergan have gone to capture the extraordinary light of that landscape in their paintings, much of the drama occurs in Dublin, Ireland, to which they return after a tragedy that shatters their idyllic lives. Following Harry’s lead—and his surety in the path of their artistic futures—Robin finds Tangiers less conducive to her work than does her husband, buoyed nevertheless by the birth of their son, Dillon. From the first, Harry embraces fatherhood with enthusiasm, only realizing the limitations on his creative efforts as the boy becomes a toddler. And while Robin supplements her work with a part-time job at a local bar, Harry blends both fatherhood and his devotion to his art—until one night, when tragedy strikes and Dillon is lost.
In 2010, the parents have returned to Dublin, where Harry paints haunting images of Tangiers in a studio rented by a friend and Robin has become an architect. Weighed down by the loss of his son, Harry has been unable to move on, creating a secret cache of images as the years go by: Dillon, a boy aging in his father’s imagination. Time—and the fickleness of fate—have pushed Robin in another direction, convinced that their only hope lies in embracing the future, sensing Harry’s resistance in his growing secretiveness, his drinking to obliterate feelings he cannot endure. Written from two perspectives, both Harry’s and Robin’s, the state of the marriage is laid bare to scrutiny, the ravages of loss and private grief etched into their daily lives.
While a mystery lurks at the heart of the novel, much of its emotional appeal is drawn from the internal struggles of husband and wife. Their marriage is strengthened by shared loss yet damaged by secrets that erect a wall between them—secrets nurtured by a guilty Harry, the weaker of the pair, exacerbated by events in Tangier years before. Everything comes to the surface in a painful denouement begun when Harry becomes convinced he has seen his son in Dublin, still alive. Refusing to believe him and fearful of another emotional breakdown like the one he suffered after Dillon’s death, Robin tries to dissuade Harry, but to no avail. The chasm between them widens as Harry pursues his son, certain his nightmare has finally come to an end.
There are human flaws aplenty in the actions of these characters, the time in Tangiers adding an exotic element, providing a few characters endemic to that area who continue to flavor the story with intrigue and suspicion. While Robin’s strength is admirable, Harry’s weaknesses, both as a husband and a father, are more indelible. His character is hardly enhanced by his obsessive nature and self-destructive behavior. In essence, the man has never really matured, perhaps his most enduring trait the love he bears for his son. The result is a cataclysm of loss, grief, infidelity, remorse and desperation, one tragedy begetting another, the children ultimately suffering for the actions of adults careless of consequences. An added plot twist turns everything upside down, but the authors go one bridge too far in the final chapter, adding an unnecessary complication that only serves to dilute the impact of the truth behind the lies.