The Sleeping and the Dead
Jeff Crook

Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 336 pages, $24.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

Logic and the occult are strange bedfellows, yet mystery novels that contain supernatural elements can be very appealing. There’s something delicious about rational thought getting confounded by unearthly occurrences. The Sleeping and the Dead effectively works both genres, but belongs in the horror category primarily because of its graphic depictions of ghastly murders. The ghosts, while spooky, pale when compared to stark and gritty images of abhorrent violence. The perpetrator of the heinous crimes is utterly warped and wicked. Author Jeff Crook does a fine job creating the evil antagonist. Indeed, all of the characters are extremely well rendered. Desperately flawed, dangerously corrupt, and profoundly maladjusted, the personages who populate this novel are not the kind of folk that would be first choices for a party guest list. They do, though, make for fascinating fiction.

Jackie Lyons, the first person narrator of the yarn, for example, is a gal of many transgressions. She’s a former vice detective who has lapsed into drug abuse. Ostensibly, she is trying to get clean and attends NA meetings. Her personal demons, however, continue to plague. And she is literally haunted: apparitions appear and rock her fragile state of mind. When Jackie acquires an expensive hand-me-down camera, the visions intensify. Photography with the Leica leads to clues concerning a multiple murderer who stages the slayings in a very theatrical manner. The play is the thing, as the murder scenes mimic dialogue or plot of famous theater pieces.

Between the phantoms and the photographs, Jackie’s already unprofessional behavior becomes even more pronounced. She falls for a guy suspected of murdering his wife, withholds evidence regarding the serial killer from the police, and craves a heroin fix. Her emotions are precariously balanced, and her judgment often seems downright ridiculous. Yet, she remains intriguing. Self-destructive and psychically scarred, she’s a metaphorical train wreck from which it’s impossible to avert one’s eyes.

Author Crook ably draws the reader into the seamy side of life, employing his protagonist’s jaded mindset to capture the mood. Jackie’s world weary observations define the narrative. When describing the seedy environs of porn shop backrooms, the zoom lens of perception is sharp and appalling: “And it wasn’t just the layer upon layer of rotting semen caked in the floor cracks that gave those places their smell. It was the rawness of the exposed human psyche, like an abscessed tooth or a gangrenous wound. It was hellish and dark and fly-specked, and in those places people ceased to be human and became mere receptacles, disposable objects to be used and thrown away.”

The Sleeping and the Dead, despite the specters, isn’t a lyrical ghost story; on the contrary, it indulges in the sordid and shocking. There are segments which are gross and others that are engrossing. The female antihero is most memorable, and can spout cynicism with aplomb: “The only difference between comedy and tragedy was your point of view. The only difference was the mask you wore, and who was holding the knife.”

Jeff Crook’s first mystery has attributes that will warm a horror lover’s heart. The ghosts are nicely integrated into the tale, but the true ghoulish terrors are to be found in the actions of the living.

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