JCP Books, Jordan Castillo Price

Sleepwalker by Jordan Castillo Price

Sleepwalker is a difficult book to categorize. There’s a little bit of mystery, a little bit of…not so much romance as much as there is a beginning of what could be a fine romance, and a little bit of personal turmoil for Dan “Web” Weber, a man who’s struggling with an affliction named George. And if you want to read even more into it, this could also be seen as a great argument for healthcare reform.

This post contains what might be considered spoilers, so click if you’d like to continue reading.

When the story began, I thought maybe it was going to be a little bit Night at the Museum, as Web is the after-hours security guard at a small and failing natural science and history center in the town of Faris, Illinois. I honestly expected the exhibits to spontaneously animate and for Web to be taunted by the giant taxidermic beaver that resides there, but as the narrative continues and the reader is introduced to the mysterious George, it slowly becomes clearer that this story was going to be less paranormal and more the exploration of how the life of a young college student with a promising future was derailed by the utterly rotten twists of fate that sometimes come our way.

Rather than continuing his studies, Web, who was orphaned as a young boy when a tornado ripped through Ferris, decimating half the town—and Web’s childhood along with it—is forced to take a crappy job at the Faris Natural Sciences Center for the sole purpose of claiming the insurance benefits that come with the uniform. He doesn’t want to work there; he’s trapped into working there, but like so many small town businesses in the time of a flagging economy, Web is falling victim to the possibility of staffing cuts, which means a loss of the medical benefits he so desperately needs. It’s a catch-22 situation for him, and he finds himself fiercely clinging to a job he hates.

Web catalogs the important events of his days and life in a notebook, something he’s forced to do when George takes over and pushes Web to the furthest corners of his subconscious, where memories don’t exist. Entering these fugue states causes Web to lose blocks of time that never can be recovered, so when he discovers that the very real possibility exists that his job may be outsourced in order to cut expenses, and the man pushing for those cuts turns up dead, well, you can imagine the implications.

The thing is Web isn’t the only, or even the primary, suspect in the murder investigation because knowledge of his condition is limited to just a few people, one of whom happens to be his cousin’s wife, who also just so happens to be an officer on the Faris police force. No, the honor of primary suspect belongs to the grungy-hot-skate punk taxidermist, Jesse Ray Jones, who’s been hired to spruce up the museum’s exhibits with the hope of earning a grant to keep its doors open and catering to the tens of people who visit each day. Jesse’s not local; he has means, motive, and opportunity; he has no air tight alibi. Makes him good suspect material, really.

Jesse and Web get their flirt on almost instantly, and I liked the back and forth between the two men, though I wish the book had been longer and gotten more involved in the chemistry and relationship between them. This is reliable Jordan Castillo Price—fast paced plot, engaging characters, witty dialog—but this felt more like the beginning of a story that ended just when it was getting good. Maybe that means there’s a sequel planned; I’m not sure.

Don’t go into this one expecting a deeply involved murder mystery; if you do, you’ll be disappointed because that’s only a small fraction of what this novella is about. Actually, this story is a division of small parts that come together as a whole. Some parts worked better than others for me, the best of it all being Web himself. I was left wanting to know him better and wanting to see where this new adventure with Jesse will lead. There are questions that still need to be answered, so my fingers are definitely crossed for a part two to this story.

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