The Nightwalker by Sebastian Fitzek is a psychological thrill-ride of a novel that finds an insomniac wondering if his nighttime excursions have turned into something beyond his imagination.
Architect Leon Nader is a 28-year-old insomniac, and it’s a vast understatement to say the condition is wreaking havoc on his life. As Sebastian Fitzek’s The Nightwalker opens, Leon’s wife Natalie is leaving him. He begs her to reconsider, but she exits their apartment and their life. She takes the elevator, but when it opens on the ground floor—Leon ran the stairs in a last ditch attempt at reconciliation—it’s empty.
Later, he calls his parents to see if they have heard from Natalie, but they are away on a cruise. The quirky couple left a message on their answering machine bragging that their trip had been paid in full by their son—a confused Leon never gifted them such a present.
Out of desperation, he makes a call to Dr. Samuel Volwarth, a psychiatrist he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, saying, “It’s me. Leon Nader. I think it’s started again.” Years before, Volwarth had strapped a video camera to Nader’s head after the young man was found by his first set of foster parents over the bed of his foster brother holding a knife. The shrink doesn’t believe matters are so grave.
'That’s what made your case so interesting: you convinced yourself you were going to do something evil in your sleep. You were so scared that in the end you didn’t want to go to sleep. And this fear of going to sleep, also known as hypnophobia, was what I wanted to take away from you with those tapes. Recordings that, when all is said and done, proved the only person you’re a danger to is yourself, like if you bump into the corner of a table in your sleep or stumble over something. If anything, you probably would have injured yourself with that knife.'
Volwarth attempts to calm fears, but before long Leon’s dreaming of having sex with his wife, who is talking in the voice of an old man … while his mother looks on. Items around the house come up missing—like the scale model he’s working on—but are nowhere to be found. A cockroach he has nicknamed Morphet likes to slink into his mouth while he’s sleeping … or is he awake? A big part of this narrative is you are never 100% sure.
Yes, I know what you are thinking: a quick assumption for most readers, myself included, is that Leon has actually fallen asleep and is dreaming these events—perhaps an unreliable narrator who has even murdered those close to him and has mentally blocked it out. Halfway in, you quickly learn there’s a little more to the psychological trampoline. He hooks himself back up to a camera and with it an unsettling discovery:
And what now?
Panting, he took a step back—and clapped his hand in front of his mouth.
That’s not possible.
In disbelief, Leon stared at the object on the wall he had just exposed.
I must be hallucinating.
But there was no doubt.
Where the wardrobe had been just moments ago was a door that he had never seen before in his life.
Sebastian Fitzek sets a high-water mark for psychological thrillers. Sharp prose without being showy, unexpected plot detours that deliver, and a strong conclusion in a genre that often lacks that much-needed final wallop. The Nightwalker is an easy contender for year-end “Best of” lists.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.