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The Little Sleep

The Little Sleep

4.1 8
by Paul Tremblay

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The wickedly entertaining debut featuring Mark Genevich, Narcoleptic Detective

Mark Genevich is a South Boston P.I. with a little problem: he's narcoleptic, and he suffers from the most severe symptoms, including hypnogogic hallucinations. These waking dreams wreak havoc for a guy who depends on real-life clues to make his living.

Clients haven't


The wickedly entertaining debut featuring Mark Genevich, Narcoleptic Detective

Mark Genevich is a South Boston P.I. with a little problem: he's narcoleptic, and he suffers from the most severe symptoms, including hypnogogic hallucinations. These waking dreams wreak havoc for a guy who depends on real-life clues to make his living.

Clients haven't exactly been beating down the door when Mark meets Jennifer Times—daughter of the powerful local D.A. and a contestant on American Star—who walks into his office with an outlandish story about a man who stole her fingers. He awakes from his latest hallucination alone, but on his desk is a manila envelope containing risqué photos of Jennifer. Are the pictures real, and if so, is Mark hunting a blackmailer, or worse?

Wildly imaginative and with a pitch-perfect voice, Paul Tremblay's The Little Sleep is the first in a new series that casts a fresh eye on the rigors of detective work, and introduces a character who has a lot to prove—if only he can stay awake long enough to do it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Rejoice, Chandler fans. The Little Sleep is as bitingly sardonic as it is hardboiled. Like Jonathan Lethem in Motherless Brooklyn, Paul Tremblay slices, dices and spins the neo-noir his own strange way and delivers a fast, smart, and completely satisfying read.” —Stewart O'Nan, author of A Night at the Lobster. A Prayer for the Dying, and The Speed Queen

“I picked up The Little Sleep, planning to just read a few pages, knowing full well I didn't have time to dip into it. Several hours later I was closing the book with a satisfied grin. The best thing I can say about this is the classic 'I couldn't put it down' and mean it. It's original and different, and yet somehow good kin folk to what has gone before in the tradition of Raymond Chandler.” —Joe R. Lansdale, author of Lost Echoes and The Bottoms

Publishers Weekly

South Boston PI Mark Genevich struggles to lead a seminormal life despite his narcolepsy, whose symptoms include falling asleep mid-conversation and hallucinations, in this uninspired noir from Stoker-finalist Tremblay (City Pier). When Jennifer Times, the daughter of prominent DA William "Billy" Times, comes to Mark's office with racy photographs of herself she received anonymously, Mark agrees to take her case. But after trying to contact both Jennifer-who's a contestant on an American Idol-like TV show-and her father, Mark realizes that Jennifer's visit was a hallucination. The photographs are his only tether to reality, one that becomes even more tenuous when he discovers not only that the subject isn't Jennifer, but that her father and his goons will do anything to get the mysterious photos back. Despite a promisingly quirky hero, Tremblay's plot is so full of holes that readers may wonder if they've suffered from one of Mark's frequent blackouts. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Mark Genevich faces more challenges than your average South Boston private detective. He's narcoleptic, and his symptoms tend to interfere with hard-boiled investigation. One is automatic behavior-Mark goes to sleep, but his body acts like he's awake. He takes in a client and has no memory of the meeting, even as the man calls, days later, in great distress, asking him "Have you found it yet?" Mark sometimes suffers from cataplexy: a conscious paralysis, often triggered by stress of the large-men-trying-to-kill-you kind. Then there are the hypnogogic hallucinations: ultravivid dreams experienced during a half-awake state. Mark can't always tell hallucinations from reality as he pursues a case concerning a beautiful young woman, risqué photos, and her district attorney father. Well-crafted in a witty voice that doesn't let go, Tremblay's debut is part noir throwback, part medical mystery, part comedy, and thoroughly, wonderfully entertaining. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ11/1/08.]
—Julie Kane

Kirkus Reviews
A South Boston private eye's job performance is seriously compromised by his inability to stay awake. Ever since the car accident that disfigured him years ago, Mark Genevich has been narcoleptic. He can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation and wake up hours later with no idea, or a highly fictionalized idea, of what happened. This may sound funny, and sometimes it is, but apart from the constant danger of having his cigarettes burn down the office building that his widowed mother owns, Mark's tendency to nod off and hallucinate makes him a less-than-ideal candidate to find out who "stole" the fingers of Jennifer Times, the D.A.'s daughter. That is, if her fingers really were stolen, and if she really is the person who left behind a pair of indecorous photos she may or may not have posed for. A shamus who can't stay awake offers a wacky new take on the genre-not only does Mark have to solve the crime, he has to figure out what it is, and who hired him to solve it-but poses unusual challenges as well. Mark's meandering leaves little room for other characters or much of a mystery, and the enigmatic edge of everything he goes through ends up flattening the big revelations, when they come, as more of the same. Despite the Chandler parody that begins with the title and the opening paragraph, Mark is no Marlowe, and this debut resembles The Big Sleep mostly in the nonstop wisecracks it provides. Agent: Stephen Barbara/Donald Maass Literary Agency

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Little Sleep

A Novel
By Paul Tremblay

Holt Paperbacks

Copyright © 2009 Paul Tremblay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805088496


It’s about two o’clock in the afternoon, early March. In South Boston that means a cold hard rain that ruins any memories of the sun. Doesn’t matter, because I’m in my office, wearing a twentyyear-old thrift-store wool suit. It’s brown but not in the brown-is-the-new-black way. My shoes are Doc Martens, black like my socks. I’m not neat and clean or shaved. I am sober but don’t feel sober.

There’s a woman sitting on the opposite side of my desk. I don’t remember her coming in, but I know who she is: Jennifer Times, a flavor-of-the-second local celebrity, singing contestant on American Star, daughter of the Suffolk County DA, and she might be older than my suit. Pretty and brunette, lips that are worked out, pumped up. She’s tall and her legs go from the north of Maine all the way down to Boston, but she sits like she’s small, all compact, a closed book. She wears a white T-shirt and a knee-length skirt. She looks too spring for March, not that I care.

I wear a fedora, trying too hard to be anachronistic or iconoclastic, not sure which. It’s dark in my office. The door is closed, the blinds drawn over the bay window. Someone should turn on a light.

I say, “Shouldn’t you be in Hollywood? Not that I watch, but the little birdies tell me you’re a finalist, and the live competition starts tomorrow night.”

She says, “They sent me home to do a promotional shoot at a mall and at my old high school.” I like that she talks about her high school as if it were eons removed, instead of mere months.

“Lucky you.”

She doesn’t smile. Everything is serious. She says, “I need your help, Mr. Genevich,” and she pulls her white-gloved hands out of her lap.

I say, “I don’t trust hands that wear gloves.”

She looks at me like I chose the worst possible words, like I missed the whole point of her story, the story I haven’t heard yet. She takes off her right glove and her fingers are individually wrapped in bandages, but it’s a bad wrap job, gauze coming undone and sticking out, Christmas presents wrapped in old tissue paper.

She says, “I need you to find out who has my fingers.”

I think about opening the shades; maybe some light wouldn’t be so bad. I think about clearing my desk of empty soda cans. I think about canceling the Southie lease, too many people double-parking in front of my office/apartment building. I think about the ever-expanding doomed universe. And all of it makes more sense than what she said.

“Say that again.”

Her blue eyes stay fixed on me, like she’s the one trying to figure out who is telling the truth. She says, “I woke up like this yesterday. Someone stole my fingers and replaced them with these.” She holds her hand out to me as if I can take it away from her and inspect it.

“May I?” I gently take her hand, and I lift up the bandage on her index finger and find a ring of angry red stitches. She takes her hand back from me quick, like if I hold on to it too long I might decide to keep those replacement digits of hers.

“Look, Ms. Times, circumstantial evidence to the contrary and all that, but I don’t think what you described is exactly possible.” I point at her hand. I’m telling her that her hand is impossible. “Granted, my subscription to Mad Scientist Weekly did run out. Too many words, not enough pictures.”

She says, “It doesn’t matter what you think is possible, Mr. Genevich, because I’ll only be paying you to find answers to my questions.” Her voice is hard as pavement. I get the sense that she isn’t used to people telling her no.

I gather the loose papers on my desk, stack them, and then push them over the edge and into the trash can. I want a cigarette but I don’t know where I put my pack. “How and why did you find me?” I talk slow. Every letter and syllable has to be in its place.

“Does it matter?” She talks quick and to the point. She wants to tell me more, tell me everything about every thing, but she’s holding something back. Or maybe she’s just impatient with me, like everyone else.

I say, “I don’t do much fieldwork anymore, Ms. Times. Early retirement, so early it happened almost before I got the job. See this computer?” I turn the flat-screen monitor toward her. An infinite network of Escheresque pipes fills the screen-saver pixels. “That’s what I do. I research. I do genealogies, find abandoned properties, check the status of out-of-state warrants, and find lost addresses. I search databases and, when desperate, which is all the time, I troll Craigslist and eBay and want ads. I’m no action hero. I find stuff in the Internet ether. Something tells me your fingers won’t be in there.”

She says, “I’ll pay you ten thousand just for trying.” She places a check on my desk. I assume it’s a check. It’s green and rectangular.

“What, no manila envelope bulging with unmarked bills?”

“I’ll pay you another fifty thousand if you find out who has my fingers.”

I am about to say something sharp and clever about her allowance from Daddy, but I blink my eyes and she is gone.


Right after I come to is always the worst, when the questions about dreams and reality seem fair game, when I don’t know which is which. Jennifer Times is gone and my head is full of murk. I try to push the murk to the corners of my consciousness, but it squeezes out and leaks away, mercury in a closed fist. That murk, it’s always there. It’s both a threat and a promise. I am narcoleptic.

How long was I asleep? My office is dark, but it’s always dark. I have the sense that a lot of time has passed. Or maybe just a little. I have no way of knowing. I generally don’t remember to check and set my watch as I’m passing out. Time can’t be measured anyway, only guessed at, and my guesses are usually wrong, which doesn’t speak well for a guy in my line of work. But I get by.

I paw around my desk and find a pack of cigarettes behind the phone, right where I left them. I light one. It’s warm, white, and lethal. I’d like to say that smoking keeps me awake, clears the head, all that good stuff normally associated with nicotine and carcinogens, but it doesn’t. Smoking is just something I do to help pass the time in the dark, between sleeps.

On my desk there is no green and rectangular ten-thousand dollar check. Too bad, I’d quickly grown fond of the little fella. There is a manila envelope, and on my notepad are gouges and scratches in ink, an EKG output of a faulty heart. My notepad is yellow like the warning traffic light.

I lean back in my chair, looking for a new vantage point, a different way to see. My chair complains. The squawking springs tease me and my sedentary existence. No one likes a wiseass. It might be time for a new chair.

Okay, Jennifer Times. I conclude the stuff about her missing fingers was part of a hypnogogic hallucination, which is one of the many pithy symptoms of narcolepsy. It’s a vivid dream that occurs when my narcoleptic brain is partially awake, or partially asleep, as if there is a difference.

I pick up the manila envelope and remove its contents: two black-and-white photos, with accompanying negatives.

Photo 1: Jennifer Times sitting on a bed. Shoulder-length hair obscures most of her face. There’s a close-lipped smile that peeks through, and it’s wary of the camera and, by proxy, me. She’s wearing a white T-shirt and a dark-colored pleated skirt. It’s hiked above her knees. Her knees have scabs and bruises. Her arms are long and closed in tight, like a mantis.

Photo 2: Jennifer Times sitting on a bed. She’s topless and wearing only white panties. She sits on her folded legs, feet under her buttocks, hands resting on her thighs. Her skin is bleached white, and she is folded. Origami. Arms are at her side and they push her small breasts together. Her eyes are closed and head tilted back. A light fixture shines directly above her head, washing her face in white light. Ligature in her neck is visible, as are more than a few ribs. The smile from the first photo has become something else, a grimace maybe.

The photos are curled, a bit washed and faded. They feel old and heavy with passed time. They’re imperfect. These photos are like my memories.

I put the photos side by side on my desktop. On the lip of the Coke-can ashtray my cigarette is all ash, burnt down to the filter. I just lit it, but that’s how time works for me. My constant enemy, it attacks whenever I’m not looking.

All right. Focus. It’s a simple blackmail case. Some entrepreneur wants Jennifer to invest in his private cause or these photos go public and then she gets the gong, the hook, voted off the island on American Star.

But why would a blackmailer send the negatives? The photos have likely been digitized and reside on a hard drive or two somewhere. Still, her—and now me—being in possession of the negatives is troubling. There’s more here, and less, of course, since I don’t remember any of our conversation besides the finger stuff, so I light another cigarette.

The Jennifer in the photos doesn’t look exactly like the Jennifer I’ve seen on TV or the one who visited my office. The difference is hard to describe, but it’s there, like the difference in taste between butter and margarine. I look at the photos again. It could be her; the Jennifer from a few years ago, from high school, the Jennifer from before professional makeup teams and personal stylists. Or maybe the photo Jennifer is margarine instead of butter.

I pick up my notepad. There is writing only on that top page. I was dutifully taking notes while asleep. Automatic behavior. Like tying your shoes. Like driving and listening to the radio instead of actually driving, getting there without getting there. Not that I drive anymore.

During micro-sleeps, my narcoleptic brain will keep my body moving, keep it churning through some familiar task, and I won’t have any memory of it. These acts belong to my secret life. I’ve woken up to find e-mails written and sent, soup cans stacked on my desk, peeled wallpaper in my bedroom, pantry items stuffed inside the refrigerator, magazines and books with their covers torn off.

Most of it is likely junk, including my doodle arrows. The narcoleptic me is rarely accurate in his automatic behavior. The numbers don’t add up to any type of phone number or contact information. But there’s south shore plaza, Jennifer’s public mall appearance. She and I need to talk. I get the hunch that this blackmail case is about as simple as quantum physics.


Excerpted from The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay Copyright © 2009 by Paul Tremblay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Paul Tremblay is the author of No Sleep Till Wonderland and The Little Sleep. He has won acclaim for his short fiction and received two nominations for the 2007 Bram Stoker Award, and he lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children.

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The Little Sleep 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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SupDugs More than 1 year ago
A Boston crime drama with a character you can root for even while he's asleep. A great noir novel from first time novelist, Paul Tremblay. The protagonist is an offbeat narcoleptic who struggles to discern what is real from what is in his dream. He is often caught in many hair raising situations which are often unexpected to not only him but the reader as well. It is an easy read, something that is accessable to readers in search of a good crime novel. People who read Dennis Lehane's novels and enjoy a challenging and fun mystery will find this book a joy. Readers will be in the dark about what is real and what is the protagonists imagination. It's a mystery that will keep you guessing til the very end. I am eagerly awaiting his sequel to dive back into this world of crimes in sleepy Boston.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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harstan More than 1 year ago
Eight years ago around the time he received his private investigators license, Mark Genevich was in a car accident. His friend George died and though he survived, he has suffered from narcolepsy ever since. That sleep disorder could prove too big a handicap for a sleuth, but the Southie has few clients and never does field work; his jobs are internet research.

Legs that stretch from Maine to South Boston arrive at his office. Jennifer Times, a contestant on a TV reality talent show and the daughter of Suffolk County DA Billy Times, wants Mark to uncover who stole her fingers; she leaves him with racy photos taken of her. When he awakens, he finds a note and the portfolio; so he goes to see her. She denies hiring him. Since Billy was a close friend of his late father, Mark visits the DA who insists the pictures are not his daughter. Soon afterward a frightened Brendan Sullivan, who lives in the same Cape Cod town as Mark¿s widowed mom and was best buddies with his late dad Tim and Billy, calls to ask if he found what he was hired to find and to make sure he does not mention the pictures to anyone. Mark realizes Brendan not Jennifer is his client. He goes to see him, but fails to reach the man as the cops claim fiftyish Brendan committed suicide. The case is not closed as Mark¿s home and office are trashed probably by Thumper and Thunder, goons of the DA.

This is an enjoyable Noir mindful of Insomnia while satirizing Chandler¿s the Big Sleep. Mark¿s little sleep that leaves him confusing realty with hallucinatory dreams makes the tale starting with his mixing up who the client is and his reality that he might have caused the death of Brendan. Though smoking and narcolepsy seems a dangerous combination, fans will enjoy this offbeat private investigative tale of a detective suffering from his own private South Boston.

Harriet Klausner