Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41077-7
From the Madonna Murderer to the Lucia Killer, Anne Frasier is imbuing her serial killers with some poetry in their modus operandi, I must say. Sleep Tight revolves around two sisters. Mary Cantrell works for the FBI. She profiles and does active field work with her partner Anthony Spence. A recent bust-up gone awry saw her stepping in to save Anthony only to sustain an injury on his behalf. The moment she is out of the hospital, the FBI send her back to her old hometown, Lynwood Park in Minneapolis.
She doesn’t want to go back. Too many ghosts and demons await her return. See, when she was a teenager, she found her best friend Fiona’s dead body in the woods nearby their homes. Worse, her sister Gillian befriends and openly supports the boy convicted for the crime. There is a serial killer wrecking havoc and leaving a trail of dead bodies, however, and Mary will have to work close with Gillian – who is now with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension – to stop this twisted fiend.
Like Hush, Sleep Tight doesn’t shy away from the violence, although this book is less gruesome than the previous book by this author. Unfortunately, the villains here are over-the-top in their compulsions and method that the chilling effect is slightly reduced where I’m concerned. Sometimes the most terrifying elements are those that are familiar to the reader. A particularly effective episode of The X-Files, for example, drives home the potential and terrifying consequences that can occur if one is in a crowded elevator and someone goes crazy in that closed space. Where will one escape to? Here, the villains are over-the-top caricatures that I’m surprised the FBI doesn’t just march towards any shy reclusive guy living in a big creepy house and arrest them all.
Also, Gillian is a very problematic character. Her motivations for openly driving home the blades of betrayal into her sister when they were kids make me almost throw the book out the window and cheer as the traffic runs all over the pages. She can be disastrously stupid at times, too stupid in fact, and it doesn’t surprise me early in the story when she complains that she hates guns even when there is a serial killer around and she fits the victim profile perfectly and – oh, Gillian, please, just die. The man she refuses to believe murdered Fiona actually attempts a near-act of violence on her, but she remains silent on the matter. Since she’s also in BCA and the man is on the suspect list, she has crossed the line from being silly to being unforgivably moronic. It is most annoying how the author rewards Gillian’s “Oh! I can sense it so it must be right!” braindead Counselor Troi-isms instead of giving her a well-deserved kick in the behind.
Mary is brittle and there will be readers who find her cold and off-putting. But I like her. Anyone who has a sister like Gillian can be forgiven for being an icy bitch. I mean, seriously, openly writing supportive letters to the man who is found guilty of murdering your openly grieving sister’s best friend and later even visiting him? And as I’ve mentioned above, when she reveals her reasons for her actions, Gillian really turns into an outright moron who has destroyed her sister’s life with her own selfishness and stupidity.
I love how the author brings out so well the humanity of her main characters. Here, Anthony is cynical and damaged and he has let his marriage crumble to pieces, but compared to Mary, he’s Mr Sunshine whose only flaw is his single-minded obsessive devotion to Mary that they are both only starting to learn of by the end of the book. I especially love how the author leaves these two dangling with a promise, a playful certainty perhaps, or a hope that one day, there may be a chance for two damaged people to have a happily ever after. This underlying humanity and even optimism – albeit a bleak kind of optimism – make this story more effective in engaging my emotions and making me connect with the characters.
I find the serial killer aspect of the story nothing to shout about. Like Hush, this book covers all the familiar stereotypical plot devices and urban legends one can associate with serial killers. It is very difficult for me to gauge how good this book is in my estimation, because the characterization of Gillian cancels out that of Mary’s and the somewhat underdeveloped Anthony-Mary unspoken sexual tension negates the most formulaic elements of the serial killer plot. I enjoy reading this book however because it is well written and it is even chilling and creepy at places, and more importantly, I want to know what will happen next to these people. If I can’t Sleep Tight after reading this book, it’s because of the lingering good feelings I have after reading a really engaging and compelling book. Because of my regret that I don’t get to see Anthony and Mary get there. And oh yes, because I am creeped out several times while reading this book as well.
So in the end, I guess this book is good. Not as good as Hush, but for now, I’m firmly on the Anne Frasier train.