by Charlie Huston

Expect the unexpected from Charlie Huston, who, with his latest
work, surprises, shocks, titillates and scares the living daylights
out of his readers.

SLEEPLESS is as different from its predecessors as can possibly
be (even ALREADY DEAD, to which it will no doubt be compared),
Let’s start with the titles. The last one was almost as long
as the book itself; this one is short and to the point. THE MYSTIC
ARTS was a bit of a noir thriller; SLEEPLESS is
science-fiction noir that takes place about six months from right
now over a few fateful days in July. What has happened is that a
very rare disease --- fatal familial insomnia --- has jumped from
its usual habitat (a very limited group of Italian families),
mutated and cut loose, affecting approximately 10% of the Los
Angeles population. The result is chaos; the victims, known as the
sleepless, slowly go out of their minds as their bodies gradually
decompose. They wander the street and begin losing their touch with
reality, resulting in a stretch, then a strain, then a break in an
already fragile infrastructure.

Parker Hass is an LAPD undercover cop who is working to try to
cut off the illegal trade of a drug called Dreamer. It cannot cure
the infected, but it can alleviate the symptoms, permitting them to
sleep regularly. Park has a stake in this: his wife and possibly
his infant daughter are infected as well. Huston engages in an
extremely different narrative process here, telling Park’s
story not only from Park’s first-person viewpoint but also
from an occasional third-person, omnipresent one as well.
Park’s storyline intersects with that of a very cold, very
dangerous “retriever” of advanced age, a condition that
has not had the effect of diminishing the agent’s very sharp
skill sets in any way whatsoever.

When Park surreptitiously retrieves a computer hard drive from a
crime scene, a mysterious and dangerous crime lord --- who is in
the early stages of the disease herself --- hires the retriever to
get it back for her. The retriever speaks in the first-person as
well, resulting in some potential minor confusion with Park’s
own first-person narrative (hint: Park’s narrative is
left-aligned in the text). But their personalities are so different
that one can sort it out in fairly short order.

As good as the plot lines are, however, the primary riveting
element of SLEEPLESS is the manifestation in all its forms of the
simmering horror that overflows onto the streets of Los Angeles.
Huston creates this strange, violent balance between insurrection
and martial law where law enforcement makes deals with street gangs
in order to preserve some sort of fragile, makeshift civilization.
While the book may be set six months in the future (as I write
this), there are parts of major American cities --- Cleveland,
Detroit, St. Louis --- where this type of situation has been the
de facto since Lyndon Johnson unleashed his ironically
titled Great Society upon a country that embraced it with open arms
and, in retrospect, with eyes wide shut.

SLEEPLESS is a horrific metaphor (in ways that Huston may not
have intended), and is violent, graphic and not without grim humor
and exotic erotica. Even as THE MYSTIC ARTS is collecting genre
nominations by the handful, Huston has given us a work that is even
better and more unforgettable.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

by Charlie Huston

  • Publication Date: December 28, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345501144
  • ISBN-13: 9780345501141