Sleepyhead (Tom Thorne Series #1)

Sleepyhead (Tom Thorne Series #1)

3.2 103
by Mark Billingham
     
 

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Dear Detective Inspector Thorne. What can I say? Practice makes perfect. And don't you just envy her that perfect...distance? I invite you to consider the concept of freedom. True freedom. Have you ever really considered it? I'm sorry about the others. Truly. I shall not insult your intelligence with platitudes about ends and means but offer in mitigation the

Overview

Dear Detective Inspector Thorne. What can I say? Practice makes perfect. And don't you just envy her that perfect...distance? I invite you to consider the concept of freedom. True freedom. Have you ever really considered it? I'm sorry about the others. Truly. I shall not insult your intelligence with platitudes about ends and means but offer in mitigation the thought that a massive undertaking often has an appropriate margin of error. It's all about pressure, Detective Inspector Thorne, but then you'd know all about that. Seriously, though, Tom, maybe I'll call you sometime.

Mark Billingham's arresting debut novel Sleepyhead, an international bestseller, is a mesmerizing, psychological thriller. Tense and unnerving, this menacing tale of obsession is as scathingly witty as it is bone chilling, and it introduces a stunning new talent in detective fiction.

Alison Willetts is unlucky to be alive. She has survived a deliberately induced stroke, and although she can see, hear, and feel, she is completely unable to move or to communicate. In leaving Alison alive, the police believe her assailant has made his first mistake. Until Detective Inspector Tom Thorne discovers the horrifying truth: Alison is the psychopath's first success; the three women he killed before her were the mistakes. "An appropriate margin of error" is how their killer dismissed them; his true intention was to leave them just like Alison: put to sleep for the rest of their natural lives. And Thorne knows they won't be his last victims. To save innocent lives, he must find a criminal whose agenda is terrifyingly unique. But this untraceable, sadistic madman is smart, elusive, and cryptic —he enjoys toying with the police almost as much as he savors pursuing his sick fantasy — and the only lead Thorne has is the tragically uncommunicative Alison.

Sensational, sinister, and sophisticated, Sleepyhead is a twisted take on the contemporary crime novel, and with it Mark Billingham reveals an extraordinary depth and range of talent. Impeccably plotted and remarkably assured, Billingham's debut marks the start of a brilliant career.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a variation on the serial killer theme, newcomer Billingham's villain doesn't want to actually kill his victims (those who do die he considers mistakes ) so much as induce massive strokes that will leave them cerebrally conscious while otherwise in a completely comatose state known as locked-in syndrome. Combining elements of both police and medical procedural thriller, the novel follows frayed, middle-aged London detective inspector Tom Thorne as he chases down a series of red herrings, gradually becoming more and more obsessed with the killer's masterpiece, 24-year-old Alison Willetts, and the seductive doctor, Anne Coburn, who cares for her. This romantic subplot becomes entwined with the main plot as Anne's colleague and paramour, Dr. Jeremy Bishop (whose amusement with Thorne's growing infatuation with Anne reveals a particular sort of passive-aggressive sadism), fuels Thorne's rising suspicion of him with verbal jousts. Billingham, a TV writer and stand-up comic, manifests a competent enough hand with plotting and dialogue, particularly at romantic moments ( Now, this carpet has unhappy memories and I'm still not hundred percent sure I've got the smell of vomit out of it... You smooth-talking bastard ). Overall, he displays a solid grasp of the form, though not at the gut-wrenching level of such peers as Mo Hayder. Billingham excels in characterization, however, and it's likely that readers will develop empathy for his conflicted protagonist and the compassionate physician who takes justice into her own hands. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
With this first work, Billingham has concocted an intense, creepy variation on the serial-killer theme this villain doesn't want to murder but instead tries to induce strokes that will lock his victims into a perpetual comatose state. His first three attempts fail (the victims die), but he finally succeeds with Alison Willetts, a young woman who ends up able to see, hear, and think but little else. The case falls to London detective Tom Thorne, a slightly tattered middle-aged cop who has seen too much death and finds his judgment clouded when he falls in love with Anne Coburn, Alison's doctor, while suspecting that Anne's best friend is the perpetrator. The strength of what could have been a standard medical/police procedural lies in its complex characters, serpentine plot twists, and dark ending. Fans of Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch and Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse will enjoy Thorne, another flawed protagonist haunted by his past. Already a best seller in Great Britain (and deservedly so), this is highly recommended for popular fiction collections. [A Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Mystery Guild featured alternate.] Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Newcomer Billingham debuts with a rote but easily digestible thriller, a British serial-killer tale that, we're told, is already an international bestseller. Charlie is a combination of Jack the Ripper and Jeffrey Dahmer: he's got some pretty sophisticated medical know-how and he's out to create zombies not for sex but for some whacked-out notion that he's saving people. The curtain rises on his first successful execution of a difficult procedure: drugging his victims (the easy part), and then kind of massaging/suffocating them until the arteries to their brains split and produce a stroke that leaves them completely paralyzed, which is what has happened to Alison Willetts, Charlie's first success after several botches and a wake of bodies. Detective Tom Thorne understands Charlie completely. Thorne is your average tough DI with a habit of drinking and a history that needs redeeming. And it's not long before he's all over Charlie. The killer is obviously a doctor, and Thorne's got one in mind, the oh-so-teasingly named Jeremy Bishop. Bishop is a smarmy whinger, and he's an ex-fling of Thorne's new fling Anne, who cares for Alison now that she's an invalid. So Thorne's suspect is also his romantic rival. And, as it happens, Bishop was Thorne's anesthesia man for a hernia operation a few years back, and of course the killer has been sending Thorne smarmy, whinging notes. But the mystery won't be solved unless Alison-whose point of view we occasionally enter; don't worry, she's in pretty good spirits considering her life is now worse than death-regains motor control over one of her eyelids and reveals the killer in what's bound to be a Helen Keller-esque scene. Billingham's prose is livelybut takes no risks, and why should it with a tried-and-true formula? Thorne doesn't come close to, say, Helen Mirren's DI Tennison, but there's more than one wanker and plenty of bollocks to go around.
USA Today
“Who would have thought a stand-up comedian could write a British police procedural as good as those produced by crime queens Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell?”
USA Today

Booklist
“Brilliantly conceived and superbly plotted, with complex characters, deft twists, and an ending that’s both shocking and oppressive. A must-read.”
Booklist [HC starred review]

From the Publisher
“Intense to the very end, Sleepyhead will captivate fans of the genre!”
Wisconsin Bookwatch

“Simon Prebble’s assured narration is mesmerizing and sure to keep listeners riveted. This excellent British police procedural with an original premise is a must for fans of the genre.”
Library Journal [starred review]

Wisconsin Bookwatch
“Who would have thought a stand-up comedian could write a British police procedural as good as those produced by crime queens Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell?”
USA Today

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061032219
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/29/2003
Series:
Tom Thorne Series , #1
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x (h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Sleepyhead

Chapter One

Thorne hated the idea of coppers being hardened. A hardened copper was useless. Like hardened paint. He was just...resigned. To a down-and-out with a fractured skull and the word scum carved into his chest. To half a dozen Boy Scouts decapitated courtesy of a drunken bus driver and a low bridge. And the harder stuff. Resigned to watching the eyes of a woman, who's lost her son, glaze over as she gnaws her bottom lip and reaches absently for the kettle. Thorne was resigned to all this. And he was resigned to Alison Willetts.

"Stroke of luck, really, sir."

He was resigned to having to think of this small girl-shaped thing, enmeshed in half a mile of medical spaghetti, as a breakthrough. A piece of good fortune. A stroke of luck. And she was barely even there. What was undeniably lucky was that they'd found her in the first place.

"So, who fucked up?" Detective Constable David Holland had heard about Thorne's straight-for-the-jugular approach, but he was unprepared for the question so soon after arriving at the girl's bedside.

"Well, to be fair, sir, she didn't fit the profile. I mean, she was alive for a kickoff, and she's so young."

"The third victim was only twenty-six."

"Yes, I know, but look at her."

He was. Twenty-four and she looked as helpless as a child.

"So it was just a missing-persons' job until the local boys tracked down a boyfriend." Thorne raised an eyebrow.

Holland instinctively reached for his notebook. "Er...Tim Hinnegan. He's the closest thing there is to next-of-kin. I've got an address. He should be here later. Visits every day apparently. They've been togethereighteen months — she moved down here two years ago from Newcastle to take up a position as a nursery nurse." Holland shut his notebook and looked at his boss, who was still staring down at Alison Willetts. He wondered whether Thorne knew that the rest of the team called him the Weeble. It was easy to see why. Thorne was...what? five six? five seven? But the low center of gravity and the very...breadth of him suggested that it would take a lot to make him wobble. There was something in his eyes that told Holland that he would almost certainly not fall down.

His old man had known coppers like Thorne, but he was the first Holland had worked with. He decided he'd better not put away the notebook just yet. The Weeble looked like he had a lot more questions. And the bugger did have this knack of asking them without actually opening his mouth.

"Yeah, so she walks home after a hen night...er, a week ago Tuesday...and winds up on the doorstep of Accident and Emergency at the Royal London."

Thorne winced. He knew the hospital. The memory of the pain that had followed the hernia operation there six months earlier was still horribly fresh. He glanced up as a nurse in blue uniform put her head around the door, looking first at them and then at the clock. Holland reached for his ID, but she was already shutting the door behind her.

"Looked like an OD when she came in. Then they found out about this weird coma thing, and she gets transferred here. But even when they discovered it was a stroke there was no obvious link to Backhand. No need to look for benzos and certainly no need to call us."

Thorne stared down at Alison Willetts. Her fringe needed cutting. He watched as her eyeballs rolled up into their sockets. Did she know they were there? Could she hear them? And could she remember?

"So, if you ask me, the only person who's fucked up is, well, the killer, really. Sir."

"Find us a cup of tea, Holland."

Thorne didn't shift his gaze from Alison Willetts and it was only the squeak and swish of the door that told him Holland had gone.

Detective Inspector Tom Thorne hadn't wanted Operation Backhand, but was grateful for any transfer out of the brand-spanking-new Serious Crime Group. The restructuring was confusing everybody and at least Backhand was a straightforward old-fashioned operation. Still, he hadn't coveted it like some he could mention. Of course it was high profile, but he was one of that strange breed reluctant to take on any case he didn't seriously think could be solved. And this was a weird one. No question about that. Three murders that they knew about, each victim suffering death due to the constriction of the basilar artery. Some maniac was targeting women in their homes, pumping them full of drugs and giving them strokes.

Giving them strokes.

Hendricks was one of the more hands-on pathologists, but a week earlier, in his laboratory, Thorne had been less than thrilled at having those clammy hands on his head and neck as Hendricks tried to demonstrate the killing technique. "What the bloody hell d'you think you're doing, Phil?"

"Shut your face, Tom. You're off your face on tranquilizers. I can do anything I like. I just bend your head this way and apply pressure to this point here to kink the artery. It's a delicate procedure this, takes specialized knowledge...I don't know. Army? Martial arts, maybe? Either way he's a clever bastard. No marks to speak of. It's virtually undetectable."

Virtually.

Christine Owen and Madeleine Vickery both had risk factors: one in middle age, the second a heavy smoker on the pill. Both were discovered dead at home on opposite sides of London. That they had recently washed with carbolic soap was noted by the pathologists concerned, and though Christine Owen's husband and Madeleine Vickery's flatmate had considered this odd, neither could deny (or explain) the presence of a...

Sleepyhead. Copyright (c) by Mark Billingham . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

MARK BILLINGHAM has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and also a Sherlock Award for Best Detective created by a British writer. Before becoming a bestselling crime thriller writer, he worked as an actor, television writer, and stand-up comedian. He lives in London with this wife and two children.

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Sleepyhead (Tom Thorne Series #1) 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this novel, though it took a while to get into the rhythm, which typically happens with Brittish authors. The beats just flow differently, which isn't a bad thing, it's just different and I found myself re-reading several passages just to make sure I knew where he was going. That said, this was a good story, good mystery. Though I was positive I knew who the villian was, Billingham kept throwing in red herrings that kept me doubting myself, which was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. I also enjoyed the many voices of characters in the story, from Tom, Anne, Allison, Dave and the killer. This was just a real good read, and I bought his next two novels, which I'm sure I'll enjoy just as much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this debut novel, and liked or loved almost everything about it. As the former reviewer said, it was typically British in that it took a while to get into the meat of the story. However, the early chapters were well used to flesh out the major and even secondary characters. That's what I liked about the book - it was so much more than a who-done-it with a twist. It had REAL characters, and I look forward to reading more books featuring D.I. Tom Thorne.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The F### bomb comes at you so much in inappropriate places that I had to quit reading this book. No choice but to take it and this author off my list.
MRR62 More than 1 year ago
People die in this book, so if you can't read fiction in which innocent people die because of a psychotic killer, then don't get this one. There is a bit of romance in this story, but it's not a romance novel. The detective, Tom Thorne, finds himself thrown into an investigation and personally taunted by the killer. Clues seem to lead only in one direction, and his certainty may be his downfall--or his glory. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though the evil in the antagonist made me want to put it away and try to forget what I'd already read. Wasn't going to happen.
TarakianWarrior More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the book, although I did have difficulty with following each character. It took me a few seconds before I realized that I was in the killer's mind, or the girl's mind, or... However, this was VERY entertaining and kept me interested throughout the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hadn't read any other Mark Billingham books before this one, and it was enjoyable. Not everything is revealed immediately and that makes the read more fun. Tom Thorne is a British detective in the spirit of all the other great fictional detectives from the UK. I read it on the Nook. The formatting was a little off in that I would have enjoyed an extra space when character perspective shifts. I was often reading into the next paragraph not having realized that we've changed characters.
prospectorBW More than 1 year ago
Really gripping keeps you guessing.Makes you wonder about tne sanity of people that yuo meet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book but had difficulty understanding which character was narrating because it would jump from one character to another, one paragraph to the next. I often had to reread pages which was annoying. I also didn't understand some of the british terms and references. I assume it was written by a british author for a british audience. I wonder if british readers feel the same way when reading american novels. I would not have been pleased if I had paid for the book, but it was good for free. It is a slow read, but maybe it's just me. Try it for yourself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just couldn't get into the story, and the characters were so flat and drab I didn't give a hooping funt what happened to them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok, this book was free, it has 310 pages, is the first of a series and the editing was not bad. It was gory, violent, filled with cursing, (f#@k) sex, murder, bias against gays, adultry, drug use, alcholism, no romance, humor or religion. It is an english, murder, mystery novel. The characters are flat and uninteresting. The plot was formuliac and has been over used. This book needed more detail. The conclusion sucked. The best part of this book was the end of the last page, because then I knew the torture was over. This has to be one of the worst books I have read. It is not chick lit. It is more for men then women and for those 18 years of age and up. My recommendation, skip this novel. AD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had higher hopes for this. Pretty boring, slow and unbelievable characters. I would pass this author by.
chevalier More than 1 year ago
great book that kept me guessing all the way. Love all Mark Billingham books.
MKPMRP More than 1 year ago
This was a page turner for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once you get passed the British slang it was an excellent murder mystery. I highly recommend it !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was surprised how I was drawn in by the characters. This is definately a decent read. The author has a knack for making you care about the people involved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a loinng babbeling book. Although i read it through to completion. I felt they way the author wrote was very cinfusing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was so hard to read. There is hardly any point to using chapters as its all jumbled together and told from several perspectives. Itdid have some thrilling parts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very hard book to follow. I finished reading but I just didn't like it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had such potential. Not sure if it was the layout within the Nook, but paragraphs blended. Most of the time it took minutes to decide who was thinking or talking. The ending...really? Should have thought that one through more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I take time reading a mystery and when I put it down and pick it up again I'm not lost. Each author has his own unique writing skills and I admire those who take the time to do extensive research. However, I could do without the victims thoughts but understand the important part she played to bring the guilty party to justice!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only made it to page 125. Could not stay focused on this read and would have to back track to try and make sense of who was who and what was what. Not my typical read so I could not get into this one. Deleting and moving on!!! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have not finished book yet but it has been pretty good so far. The formatting can be confusing though. It goes back and forth between people with just break in the sentences at times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a waste
tlnugent More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. Its one of those easy to lose you self in and isn't easy to put down. Thoroughly enjoyable.
tumbleweed23 More than 1 year ago
Being the first in the series it can only get better! I'm looking forward to the next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
interesting, but did't keep glued to the book