Dave and I heard from a very established mystery author that book two in any series is often the toughest: The first book has been in the author's hands for years, being massaged and coaxed into its finest possible condition, and often revised to rise up over the barriers to publication. The second book, though, is often written under intense time pressure to meet a contract or other expectation, and sometimes that hurry-hurry shows in the pages.
But not this time. NO SLEEP TILL WONDERLAND is smoothly written, layered with dark humor and fresh situations, and loaded with wonderful language. Genevitch, a Boston-area investigator, became narcoleptic as a result of a horrific car accident that shattered his body and mind. Consequences include falling asleep uncontrollably, suffering hypnagogic hallucinations, going into overload that either erupts in twitches or paralyzes him completely. Earning a living as a detective looks impossible for Mark, and mostly that's true. As NO SLEEP opens, he's stuck in a group therapy session, part of the deal he's struck with his anxious and angry mother, so he can continue to live on his own in an apartment. And there's nothing the group, or the pushy shrink, can do to help him.
Except, of course, the members of the therapy group are in the know about Mark's handicaps now. And when the guy sitting next to him, Gus, suddenly offers a warm friendship, complete with caregiving, food, booze, and even potential work, Genevitch finds the situation overwhelming. Maybe that's why he's having such a tough time with the narcolepsy, too:
I wake up on the couch, Again.Gus and his friends and their friends are taking over Mark Genevitch's life. Unlike his usual clients, they know the cracks in him to seize with sharp fingernails, and even as he tries to solve an arson case, a murder that is being blamed on him, and dodge the interested police officer, life is melting around him like green frosting.
I had a crazy ass dream about two FBI agents busting in and knocking my ass around the apartment, asking me about aliens, like green men. I had one living under my couch apparently. It said we tasted like chicken.
My heart beats hard enough to alter my chest's concavity. The sun is out, spewing its radiation through the windows. I sit up, blink, mash my hands around the mess of my face, and I might need to shave my tongue.
Where the hell did that nightmare come from? My dreams and hypnagogic hallucinations are always so vivid and real, like snippets and disjointed scenes belonging to my incredibly detailed secret life, a life usually more inhabitable than my real one.
When I look up from my computer, four hours have disappeared. I'm not doing well today.
There's an amazing sex scene in here featuring rubber bands. There are menacing attacks on Mark that get way too personal. Only desperation can press through the narcolepsy as well as ordinary numbness of his life to reassemble the pieces into a puzzle different from the one being forced on him.
Deliciously unexpected in its twists, turns, collapses, and above all descriptions ("She has a small silver ball stud that pokes out just below her bottom lip, not centered, but on the left side. A robo-dimple. The stud is too small and is being swallowed by her skin."), this book follows through on all promises and wraps up its hardboiled plot with panache and a hard-earned grin. I have four friends I'd like to give it to, right away, but -- I'm not willing to give away my copy.
Which takes me back to where I started in the "headline" of this review: Go get a copy of your own. Get two copies while you're at it. This is a keeper, but it's also a book you're going to want to talk about with the other person in your life who shares the best laughter, as well as the saddest moments.
[P.S.: Tremblay's first in this series was THE LITTLE SLEEP. See our review, and Tremblay's own web site and blog.]