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Review by
Mike Philbin
by Greg Iles
Coronet Books (UK version)
ISBN 0-340-77008-2


Prize winning photo-journalist Jordan Glass notices a painting of her twin sister in a gallery in Hong Kong. Nothing wrong with that you might say. Apart from the stark nudity and the detailed intimacy of the rendition. Well, Jordan's sister was abducted from New Orleans thirteen months ago. Abducted, assumed murdered.

The thing is, she is not the only one - eleven women have recently gone missing from New Orleans and Jordan's connection of her lost sister to number 19 in the series of Sleeping Women (a better novel title for me) paintings opens up a long stagnant investigation and suggests that the series of killings is even worse than anticipated. The 19 paintings all depict women, naked. They are posed as if in repose, sleep maybe. But their eyes are painted in the dull patina of death. Jordan goes on an FBI-sponsored mission of revelation, both historical and personal.

This book mixes the two things dearest to my dark heart, sex and death, and their identical twin counter parts art and prose.

But Chimera, I hear you say, you are the critic of all that is formulaic Murder Mystery and yes, this book too, like all those that have come before it, is scripted in the standard, reversed narrative way where all the shoelaces are knotted in advance and the wearers are shown to the reader only when it is required. It is a book filled with all the solid structure of the classic con job of this over-subscribed genre where guessing the murderer or the next narrative turn is at worst futile and at best improbable.

However, it is the depth and beauty of the command of death's prose that enamoured this reviewer. Greg Iles knows his trade and his plots are well crafted but almost without warning, the reader comes across a gem. Here's a beautiful descriptive piece from the start of the book - Jordan's first confrontation with what she believes to be her dead twin sister:

"This was not a painting but a mirror. The face looking back at me from the wall was my own. The body, too, mine: my feet, hips, breasts, my shoulders and neck. But the eyes were what held me, the dead eyes - held me and then dropped me through the floor into a nightmare I had travelled ten thousand miles to escape."

Of all the writers I like, from the early gore of Clive Barker, through the techno wonderment of William Gibson, to the raw human struggle of William Burroughs, to the elegance of Thomas Harris and the dreamy realism of Haruki Murakami, I have to say, I have found a new love in the work of Greg Iles.

DEAD SLEEP gets Four Book Wyrms.

This review copyright 2003 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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