THE SLEEPWALKER (2019) ****
by Joseph Knox
This paperback edition published by Black Swan, 2020, 433pp
First published in hardcover by Doubleday, 2019
© Joesph Knox, 2019
Blurb: As a series of rolling blackouts plunge the city into darkness, Detective Aidan Waits sits on an abandoned hospital ward, watching a mass murderer slowly die. Transferred from his usual night shift duties and onto protective custody, he has just one job. To extract the location of Martin Wick’s final victim before the notorious mass murderer passes away. Wick has spent over a decade in prison, in near-total silence, having confessed to an unspeakable crime that shocked the nation and earned him the nickname of The Sleepwalker. But when a daring premeditated attack leaves one police officer dead and another one fighting for his life, Wick’s whispered last words will send Waits on a journey into the heart of darkness. Manipulated by a reticent psychopath from his past, and under investigation from his new partner, Detective Constable Naomi Black, Waits realises too late that a remorseless contract killer is at work. Can Aidan Waits solve his last case before fleeing justice?
Comment: The third book in Joesph Knox’s Aidan Waits series sees the author put his protagonist through even darker territory than in Sirens or The Smiling Man. The result is a fast-paced page-turning thriller full of twists. The main plot concerns the murder of a convicted killer, convicted for the deaths of a woman and her two children but claiming his innocence as he dies as a result of a hate attack. As Waits and his new partner, Naomi Black, delve deeper they uncover a broader web of cover-ups within the force relating to another case involving a missing female detective. Alongside this, Knox delves more into Waits’ personal past and his relationship with his sister and mother. To fully understand this latter sub-plot it is advised to read Knox’s books in order. If that wasn’t enough there is a further sub-plot involving Knox’s personal nemesis and drug crime lord, Zain Carver, who has put a contract out on the detective. Knox juggles the main plot and the various sub-plots extremely well, so the book does not feel overly cluttered until he tries to resolve (or not as the case may be) each of them in a finale which builds crescendo on crescendo. Therein lies the problem. The book tries to cram so much exposition into its final act and whilst doing so has an ambiguous ending that will leave some readers distinctly unsatisfied. It may make for thrilling reading and certainly is exciting, but does make the reader question its contrived nature. This is where the modern novel is now mimicking the TV mini-series, which in itself mimicked the novel. The need to pile on shock revelation after shock revelation has removed an element of logic and plausibility from the narrative. That said this was still a hugely enjoyable read for those willing to forgive the contrivances and submit to Knox’s dark view of the world. It will be interesting to see what this challenging and gifted writer delivers next as I have the feeling there is a masterpiece within his gifts, just waiting to be unleashed.
THE SLEEPWALKER (2019) ****