Written by Dale Bailey and Jack Slay, Jr.
Published by Golden Gryphon Press (June, 2006)
198 pages (hardcover)
I am a lover of words. Most writers are, I would wager. I love a well turned phrase, a catchy line, paragraphs written so that each word fits snugly into the next like shining blocks of language. There’s a scene in one of my favorite movies, Donnie Darko, where an English teacher relates a phrase claimed by a famous linguist to be the most perfect combination of words in the English language: cellar door. Even out of context, that phrase is beautiful, exotic even.
The title of this book is another such phrase. Sleeping Policemen. Technically it’s another term for a speed bump. But it’s also a singularly enticing phrase with a delicious flow to it, which makes it a fitting name for this exciting, fast-paced book.
Dale Bailey and Jack Slay, Jr.’s tale begins in a way that many people will find familiar. Nick and his two buddies are heading back to school – Ransom College – after a long night of drinking and ogling half-naked women at a strip club. Finney Durant, well-to-do son of a senator, is driving; and Finney’s childhood friend Reed Tucker, who also sports a silver spoon, is riding shotgun. Nick’s sort of the odd man out, the son of a man who worked with his hands on an oil rig, the first one in his family to make it to college – on scholarship of course. He wouldn’t even know these guys to say hi to if it wasn’t for Sue, the beautiful (and of course, rich) woman Nick is lucky enough to be dating. If, that is, he disregards the days she sometimes doesn’t call and the strange cigarettes in her car ashtray and the fact that she used to date Finney.
Reed rather resents Nick’s intrusion into his friendship with Finney and vice versa. Finney is the glue that holds the trio together. It’s an uneasy grouping to be sure which means that, when the drunken boys, speeding home, hit – well, something – the situation goes from bad to worse really, really quickly. The set-up will probably remind many of the teeny-bopper flick, I Know What You Did Last Summer, but this is no kiddie bedtime tale, and the similarities pretty much end there. While Finney and Reed want to just drive off, Nick insists they go back and see what it was they hit. As you can guess, it wasn’t a possum. The guy is definitely stone dead, and though Nick wants to do what’s right, he realizes that Finney and Reed have money and power behind them so if they go to the police, he’d likely be the only one rotting in jail. I must say this is the first time I’ve encountered this type of story where I actually bought the characters’ reasoning for covering up a crime, which was a nice change – and definitely a precursor of what was to come.
The bad situation doesn’t stop there. The dead guy has no wallet, but he is carrying $10,000 in cash, which Finney convinces Nick to take (he doesn’t have to try too hard, it’s more money than Nick’s ever seen), and a bus station locker key. Nick takes that as well, starting them all down a path that leads from bad to seriously fucked up.
They hide the body in the woods and skedaddle when a car drives by and decide to put it all behind them. Easier said than done, of course. Unlike the characters in so many mystery books (and movies and shows as well), these guys don’t act like criminals who are skilled at covering up a crime. They act like…well, a bunch of college kids who don’t have the slightest clue what they hell they’re doing. This fact actually caused, at first, the only real peeve I have with the book: Sometimes these characters make really bad decisions, and it was annoying how short-sighted they were. But once I thought about it, it’s probably what real people would do. Still, they are really bad at it! First off, Nick spills the beans to Sue. Then a cop named Evans shows up, being shady, and they all kind of fudge the story.
The story that unfolds keeps the reader constantly on edge. In addition to the hit-and-run, the money, and the shady cop, they find in the locker a video tape of a rich lobbyist’s missing daughter being raped and killed, they’re being followed by a PI looking for the girl, and they’re sought by a powerful mobster named the Pachyderm who wants his money and his tape back. This is the crazy world the quartet find themselves caught right in the middle of. We find out what they have to do to stay alive and whether or not they are willing – and able – to do it.
The characters are fantastic. Nick’s constant struggle to be more than his small town, poor upbringing radiates from his every move and action. His insecurities with Sue, Finney, and Reed are so realistic. And each time he makes a decision or turns a corner, it’s easy for the reader to see his thinking and understand him. Watching him move from who he thinks he is to who he’s decided to become is fascinating. The others are a bit more enigmatic but still such vibrant characters – Finney especially. They walk, talk, and act like real people, which makes it effortless to become deeply involved in their story whether you like them or hate them. Bailey and Slay write extremely well together, resulting in a seamless collaboration. It isn’t apparent at any time that this was written by two entirely different people.
From the opening paragraphs the reader is strapped into the seat of terrifying thrill ride of murder, sex, money, and survival. The story is relentless, barely allowing the reader to catch his breath. My heart was pounding the whole time! I’m not kidding. It’s smart, interesting, and jam-packed with action and tension – like a roller coaster, immensely satisfying and fun. But beware, this is not a mystery. There is no big case to solve, and things don’t turn out all cotton candy in the end. Readers looking for secrets and big reveals followed with a “Happily Ever After…” should look somewhere else. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a dark, gritty, and sometimes gruesome crime novel with lots of dark corners, I recommend Sleeping Policemen wholeheartedly.
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