“Sleep, Savannah, Sleep” by Alistair Cross

Long ago I discovered that most novels finish exactly the way they start. If a book seems like a certain type of story in the first three chapters, then it will probably end that way. Most novels.

Once in a while, we find a book that starts out in one direction but somewhere in the middle makes a turn and goes somewhere else. And these books really need sympathetic reviewers, or many possible fans will quit reading before they should.

“Sleep, Savannah, Sleep” starts out, frankly, as a bit of a soap opera. Jason is a recently bereaved widower who brings his son and daughter to a new town to try to put their lives back together. He is highly concerned with the welfare of his moody almost-adult son and his chipper but fearful seven-year-old daughter. He begins to meet the local characters and immediately runs into trouble because of his occupation – massage therapist – which draws in the expected sex-starved middle aged women and jealous husbands. In fact, everything is pretty much as expected for the first half of the book. And except for a certain amount of stereotyping of characters, it goes along pretty well. For a soap opera. Any supernatural possibilities can be explained away as manifestations of the main character’s traumatic past, which is slowly revealed.

At the halfway point, everything switches. Soap opera becomes murder mystery becomes horror novel. And then all the careful setup comes into play, as the unreality of the supernatural contrasts with the everyday worries of a normal father who finds himself wondering if he’s going crazy. The last half of the book rollicks along, full of action and suspense. A couple of beautifully orchestrated 180-degree plot twists later we get to the almost-happy ending we expected from the beginning.

I enjoyed the first half for quite different reasons than those I found the second half memorable for. Recommended for horror fans willing to wade through a bit of homey psychological drama first.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



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