The Sleepwalker

9780385542555_p0_v1_s192x300Chris Bohjalian’s The Sleepwalker had me reading until I found out whodunnit.  Unfortunately, I read until I went to bed – and then had trouble going to sleep.  I resisted googling “sleepwalking” – better not to now how factual the references were.

Bohjalian’s sleepwalker is a beautiful architect with an English professor husband and two  girls, one a college senior, the other nine years younger; she suffers from a sleepwalking condition that may have caused her death.  Her history reveals a night when she almost jumped off a bridge and another when she spray-painted the hydrangea in the front yard – remembering neither event.

When Annalee’s sleepwalking seems to be in remission, her husband leaves for an out of town conference, despite the possibility she might walk into the night without him nearby in bed.   The next morning, her daughter discovers her missing, and as the search continues, possible perpetrators emerge until finally the body is found – only to restart the investigation and the story in a different direction.

Throughout the plot, red herrings draw the reader into fake paths, highlighting character flaws and revealing salacious possibilities. Bohajlian builds the suspense with background on each of the suspects – the husband, of course; the detective who shared coffee and her condition; possible unknown lovers.  But I never guessed who really did it and how, despite the killer’s short ramblings of anonymous notes between the chapters. No spoilers here.

A fast-paced thriller with Bohjalian’s trademark surprise ending, The Sleepwalker is a mystery with Gothic tones and Alfred Hitchcock intrigue.

 

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A Circle of Wives

9780802122346_p0_v2_s260x420Who killed the plastic surgeon with three wives?  Alice La Plante’s latest who-dun-it expands the likely suspects beyond the obvious possibilities in A Circle of Wives to sustain the mystery until the end.

When Dr. John Taylor, the altruistic plastic surgeon who saves children’s lives, is found murdered in a hotel room, his reputation suffers some tarnishing when his three wives appear at the funeral.  La Plante alternates the action among the three: Deborah, the long-suffering and calculating first wife who holds the ten million dollar life insurance policy and orchestrated her husband’s life; MJ, the seedy accountant who loves to garden and has an abused brother who needs money; and Helen, the ambitious doctor who is pregnant with his child.  The fourth voice in the story belongs to the young detective, Samantha Adams, who pursues the murder, and has her own personal problems, not the least of which is her lack of self-confidence. As she interviews each wife, her own story weaves into the drama and nothing is as it seems.

With La Plante’s style of short sentences and steady dialogue, the story clicks along at a steady pace, and will hook you into solving the crime as you read.  As she slowly reveals the possible motivation that each wife has to kill, La Plante manages to distract and foil the reader through a series of viable possibilities.

Sam Adams solves the case and confronts the murderer, in a scene worthy of Agatha Christie – all questions are answered, all loose ends resolved – yet the story ends on ambivalent note – will the murderer be punished or held accountable?  Unlike Monk or Columbo, Sam Adams seems satisfied without the “admissible evidence to convict.”  You can decide if justice is served.

 

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

Whew!  I read The Silent Land in under three hours, and enjoyed every minute of the suspenseful ride.  Clues to the ending started seeping in toward the end, but, by then, I was committed to finding out if what I guessed, was really what had happened.  Think of Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land as a great episode of the old TV thriller “The Twilight Zone” or “Lost.”   Joyce is a winner of the O. Henry Award – a clue to expect a surprise ending.

Zoe and Jake Bennett are in the French Alps for a ski holiday, and have the pristine slopes all to themselves on a perfect crisp morning.  As they make their way down the hill, an avalanche buries them in the snow.  Amazingly, they dig themselves out and walk down to their hotel to find it abandoned.  As the story continues, time seems to have stopped – with the meat and vegetables in the restaurant kitchen not decaying, candles never burning down, no new logs needed to keep the fire going.  Their attempts to ride or walk away from the resort are fruitless; no matter what direction they take, they always return to the same place.

Jake assumes they died in the avalanche and are now trapped in a pleasant limbo.  For a while, they enjoy the skiing on slopes they have all to themselves and drink the best wines from the restaurant, as they try to understand what has happened.  Eventually, strangers intrude – men in masks, a great black horse, a favorite dog…and clues that will lead you to an obvious conclusion that has been used before in novels.

At the heart of the story is Jake and Zoe’s marriage, and Zoe’s secret – that she is pregnant.  Joyce effectively keeps the attention focused on his characters.  It’s their relationship that drives the action, with clever banter and the quick, knowing connections of a married couple who know each other well, but are still discovering more.  As their world becomes fragmented,  their memories hold them together.

Combining mystery, romance, and just the fun of solving a puzzle, The Silent Land is an appealing fast ride down a slippery slope – and much better than watching TV.