The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry (the pseudonym for co-authors Karen Gillece and Paul Perry) is an international thriller, featuring a father whose presumed-dead son might not be as dead as he thought (available February 18, 2014).
Tangiers in 2005 is a place teeming with color, and life. Perfect for an artist like Harry, who is living there with his wife Robin, and young son Dillon. Dillon has always had serious problems sleeping, but tonight Harry has added something to his milk that will help him sleep, because it’s Robin’s birthday, and Harry wants things to be perfect when she gets home.
“He stirs a cup of warm milk, blinks, and looks out again onto the changing and otherworldly colors of the sky.
Setting the spoon down onto the counter, he turns from the open window and crosses to where the boy is sitting, his face tightened in concentration at the jigsaw puzzle before him.
“Here,” his father says, holding out the cup.
The boy does not look up.
“No, Daddy, I don’t want to.”
His father hands him the cup again. The boy hesitates before reaching out, and in that moment, Harry feels the faintest beat of indecision. He ignores it and nods his head at the boy in encouragement.
The boy takes long, slow gulps. A small dribble of milk escapes from the corner of his mouth, and his father wipes it away. Dillon gulps again and hands the cup back. “Here, Daddy,” he says. “Finished.”
Harry takes the cup and walks to the sink to rinse it. At its bottom there is a fine residue of powder. He fills the cup with water and watches the residue flow up and out of it and down into the drain.”
However, Harry has forgotten something at a friend’s, but Dillon is fast asleep, and doesn’t see the harm in leaving for a moment. After all, it’s just around the corner. When an earthquake rocks the city, Harry rushes back to find that the earth has swallowed the apartment building, and there’s no trace of his son.
The narrative then skips to Dublin in 2010 and it’s then that we start getting Robin’s point of view. Robin is restless in a job that isn’t very rewarding, having given up her art years ago, and when she finds out she’s pregnant again, she’s simultaneously elated and worried. Robin’s not sure that Harry has ever recovered from Dillon’s loss, neither one of them ever really have, but she hopes he’ll be happy about the baby. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Robin, Harry thinks he’s spotted Dillon in a crowd of people at a street protest, with a strange woman, and this sighting plunges him into an obsession from which there may be no return.
Time passed; how much time, I don’t know. But after a while, I began to grow weary and hoarse. Somebody somewhere was beating a drum, and I felt the reverberations of it in my head and started to think about leaving. The strangeness of that morning— the surprise of snow, the clearing of my studio, whiskey poured into an empty stomach, Spencer’s hands on those drawings, and now the push and roar of the crowd. Bang, bang, bang went the drum. It was too much. I was hungry and tired. I needed to get home, or to the warmth of Slattery’s. I needed to see Robin.
As I turned to go, I noticed a flash of color. A scarf wound around a woman’s neck, the ends of it loose and billowing in the breeze. A diaphanous material, silk perhaps, the color blue like smoke on the air. The woman, tall and attractive, was holding a boy by the hand, the two of them walking purposefully up O’Connell Street. The boy turned and looked at me, and everything slowed right down. The drumbeat stopped. The roaring hushed. The crowd fell away. In that moment, there was nothing but me and the boy, our eyes holding each other’s.
My heart gave a frightened beat. I sucked in my breath, and the blood roared into my ears.
My son. My lost boy.
It’s at this point that the book firmly starts to plant the kernel of doubt in its readers’ minds, and indeed, the layers of Robin and Harry’s past begin to peel back like an onion, revealing infidelity, uncertainty, and the taint of mental illness. Furthermore, are Harry and Robin even reliable narrators? The book works on a number of levels. It’s very effective as a thriller, with the two distinct voices racing alongside each other against a background of discomfort and betrayal, and Harry’s feverish determination to find out if Dillon is still alive. It’s also a heartbreaking dissection of a marriage in turmoil, of the damage that is done when secrets are kept for far too long, and the fierce, sometimes all-encompassing love that parents have for their children. Since Karen Perry is the pseudonym of Irish authors Karen Gillece and Paul Perry, it’s no surprise that the different viewpoints are so arresting, and effective, in this novel about what is, without a doubt, every parent’s worst nightmare.
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