March 01, 2010

BOOKS: The Little Sleep, Paul Tremblay (2009)

There's a great big fat suspension of disbelief required for this one, but if you can make that leap, I think you'll be entertained.

Our hero is Paul Genevich, a south Boston private eye who usually sticks to cases involving deskwork and research -- title searches, genealogies, that sort of thing. He's reluctant to take more traditional PI cases that would involve stakeouts, pursuits, spying, etc, because -- and here's your suspension of disbelief -- he's narcoleptic. Severely narcoleptic, no less, prone to fits of catoplexy and the occasional hallucination as he's on his way into or out of a sleeping spell.

But when Paul sees the beautiful Jennifer Times sitting in his office, and she leaves behind a couple of nude photos of herself, he's suddenly involved in a real case. Jennifer is the daughter of the district attorney (who just happens to have been a boyhood chum of Paul's deceased father), and she's become a minor celebrity in her own right as a contestant on an American Idol-type show.

I don't know nearly enough about narcolepsy to know whether Tremblay's depiction of the condition is accurate, but it feels convincing, and Tremblay uses Paul's narcolepsy to generate suspense in unusual ways; what would be a simple 45-minute drive from the suburbs to Boston, for instance, becomes a nightmarish orderal when Paul is forced to do the driving himself.

The narrative voice is entertaining, filled with the sardonic wisecracks that have been almost obligatory for private eyes ever since Raymond Chandler, and the story is briskly plotted, with its fair share of twists and turns. It's hard for me to imagine that Tremblay can sustain a series about a narcoleptic private eye for very long, but the followup has just been published (No Sleep Till Wonderland), and I'm certainly curious to see if he can pull it off again.

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