Iíve read the last three Greg Iles books and enjoyed them for the most part but, other than his second book, Black Cross, I hadnít read any of his earlier novels. When I saw 2002ís Sleep No More in a bargain bin, I couldnít resist. Surprisingly, itís probably now one of my favorite Iles books, with fewer of the things that annoyed me about his more recent efforts. Itís a page-turner that kept me reading into the night, and it actually has some interesting characters, too!
John Waters is living a beautiful life in his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi. Heís got a lovely wife, a wonderful daughter, and heís well-respected throughout the community. Unfortunately, itís all too easy for this idyllic life to crash in flames around him. In college, he dated Mallory Candler, a woman he loved deeply but who eventually tried to kill him and then one of his girlfriends after they broke up, before finally marrying and then being brutally murdered in New Orleans. But a stray glance from a beautiful real estate agent named Eva, and a whispered word that he never thought he would hear again, has brought the past back to the present. The result of this could destroy his life and lead to his imprisonment for a murder he canít even remember if he committed.
Iles deftly handles the intricate plot heís developed here, with Eva convincing Waters that sheís the reincarnation of his dead lover, a woman so obsessed that she would do anything to be with him. Iles walks the fine line between the supernatural and the mundane, keeping the reader guessing which is the truth. What keeps you reading is how Waters is slowly convinced that Eva is telling him the truth - but every time heís sure, a voice of reason steps in and points out how Eva could be leading him on. Throw in a wife who has been sexually distant with him since she lost a baby and a business partner whoís a ladiesí man and a lout, and youíve got a recipe for an intriguing thriller.
Iíve always loved Ilesí writing, even when I found his characters thoroughly unlikable. Sleep No More is no exception. Itís not wonderful prose, but there are a few passages in the book that made me stop and stare for a moment. His writing style is gripping, making you want to read just one more chapter to see whatís going to happen. Itís fast-paced yet also gives the reader plenty of Natchez atmosphere. The dialogue crackles, and few words are wasted.
What makes this book stand out, at least compared to the Iles books Iíve previously read, are the characters. There are very few characters in Ilesí books that Iíve actually liked; theyíre often annoyingly dumb or just unpleasant to read about. Iíve often thought that Iles was trying to make them more human by filling them with flaws, but he has always seemed to go over the line and affect my enjoyment. If Sleep No More is any indication, Iíll have to go back to some of his earlier works to see this problem fixed.
Yes, the characters are still flawed and occasionally do stupid things, but they seem much more likeable and ďrealĒ this time. Waters has a lot of problems, but most of his extreme actions are done for love of his family. His wife, Lily, has serious reasons for her withdrawal, and I felt horrible when she finally came out of her shell just in time to fall into the whirlpool of events that is Johnís life at the moment. Cole, the business partner, is extremely flawed, but we see throughout the book that he is this way for a reason. Deep down, heís a good man who just canít control his impulses. When Iles finally reveals the truth behind the events, the true villain can be a bit one-note at times but is still very interesting.
The only really nettlesome character is the lawyer Penn Cage. Cage has been the main character in at least two Iles books (Turning Angel, which takes place after this novel, and The Quiet Game, which is before). He seems smug, but perhaps itís the fact that even when heís not the main character, Iles has to squeeze him in somehow. He has a cameo in one other Iles book Iíve read as well. Here, he plays the voice of reason to Watersí flights of fancy about Eva. Itís not this attitude that bugged me, but the way he keeps presenting it. Maybe weíre supposed to be irritated by him? I wouldnít think so, since heís the main character in other novels, but he definitely is.
The only thing I really donít like about Sleep No More is the final coda. I love the explanation for the events in the novel, but thereís one thing that has to do with the evidence for the murder of which Waters is accused that is just found a bit hokey. I suppose if youíre buying the rest of the plot, itís not that far out, but it just seems terribly convenient.
With those two exceptions, Sleep No More is a fantastic thriller. The urge to read it in one sitting will definitely be there, and itís nice to see a more recent Iles book that I truly enjoyed, rather than enjoying it but with
a string of caveats. Iíll have to look up more of his backlist.