“The Sleeping and The Dead” by Jeff Crook / Friday, October 19, 2012 / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is The Sleeping and the Dead by Jeff Crook.

"The Sleeping and the Dead" by Jeff Crook

From the first page, I was hooked.

Why Clay Stafford chose this book:

I started Jeff Crook’s first mystery “The Sleeping and the Dead” and couldn’t put it down. Crook has previously written several fantasy books. In this, he goes full mystery except for one element: the main character can see ghosts. As a reviewer, rarely do I find characters and plot both equally compelling. It makes it hard to know which to address first. Toss a coin. We’ll begin with character.

Jackie Lyons is a former vice detective with the Memphis Police Department with a drug problem that won’t go away. She is about as messed up and flawed as a person can get. Her life is a wreck and she seems determined day-by-day to keep it that way and make it worse. It is punishment for her. It is punishing to read. There is conflict and potential loss on every page. You’re hooked from the start. “This is my life,” she says. “It sucks, but it’s all I have.” As the book begins, the train engine has already slammed into the wall. We begin in the action. On page 300, we’re still watching the freight cars pile up. As it was written in first person (without a he/she gender indicator), I first thought on page 1 that she was a man, but as the story went along (I realized she was a woman by page 2), I began to see the female side. At times, both sides are admirable and, at others, neither is pretty, There is much pain in this story’s past and, once you know this, you understand why it is so hard for the main character to find a firm foundation. Plus, there is that ghost sitting at the foot of the bed. Lyons can’t convince herself that she is imagining things. She’s had this problem her entire life. “The dead don’t die,” she informs us. “They stay with you.” True. I guess some more than others. And even when everyone is in denial. (And maybe because everyone is in denial.)

The cast of supporting characters are varied, well-drawn, and individually represented. All distinct. A eunuch who has a crime scene death fetish, amateur ghost researchers, drugged and homeless homosexuals, a drunk landlord, psychic associations, flawed police (but in a good way), and – of course – the ghosts.

I loved how I continued to discover new info about the characters as I went along. Crook is not tempted to tell us everything about a character when we first meet him/her. In fact, we may not learn an integral story point until we’ve near finished the book. But the grand thing is that he has anticipated our questions and answers all by the end. There is nothing forced in this novel, even the ghosts. In the context of the characters, you’ll believe the characters see them, whether you believe they are there or not.

The crimes in the story are grisly and dark. When the first one hit me, I had to stop and reread it to make sure I was reading what I thought I was reading. Very graphic. The Playhouse Killer, a psychotic serial killer, is well-versed in the game he wants to play with the cops. He is in control. The mystery portion of the plot is one of the fairest and most hidden – yet right in your face – that I have seen. There are twists and turns and the great thing is that you don’t see them coming.

In tone, the entire book is troublesome. Some readers said it was too graphic for them. If you don’t like your murders served on the grill with a red-hot poker, then it may be. I was sucked in. If there is any part of you that might remotely believe in ghosts, then there are elements in this book that will definitely make the hair stand on the back of your neck.

In the end, though, it is not about the crimes. It is about what we suppress. As stated by the main character’s father: “If you really love somebody, you shut your mouth and live with the guilt, even if it kills you. Sin is compounded by confession. Confession may comfort the soul, but only because it forces other people to bear the burden of your guilt, and that’s hardly fair to them. Ignorance is bliss, and half of communicating is knowing when to shut your cake hole.” To the characters in this book, that applies to life experiences, ghosts, murderers, and anything else one could conjure. “What is seen cannot be unseen, innocence lost is lost forever. Eventually we become accomplices.” There is no innocence in this book.

I hated to see it end.

From Amazon:

“A new mystery series starring a Memphis crime scene photographer with ghostly assistance

Jackie Lyons is a former vice detective with the Memphis Police Department who is trying to put her life back together: her husband has sent divorce papers, she’s broke, and needs a place to live. But a failed marriage, unemployment, and most recently a fire in her apartment aren’t her only problems: she also sees ghosts.

Since Jackie left the force, she’s been making ends meet by photographing crime scenes for her old friends on the force, and for the occasional collector. When she is called to the murder scene of the Playhouse Killer’s latest victim, she starts seeing crime scenes from a different perspective — her new camera captures images of ghosts. As her new camera brings her occasional ghostly visitors into sharper relief, it also points her toward clues the ex-detective in her won’t let go: did the man she has just started dating kill his wife? Is the Playhouse Killer someone she knows?

As Jackie works to separate natural from supernatural, friend from foe, and light from dark, the spirit world and her own difficult past become the only things she can depend on to solve the case.”

If you want to make your own comments on this selection, we would love to hear from you. Join ourFacebook Killer Nashville group page or our blog and join in the discussion.

Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

– Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville