Short Take: A book about insomnia that is also a cure for it.
Sleep and I have had a long and difficult relationship. There are family legends about three-year-old me getting out of bed to go exploring in the middle of the night. Every night. It reached the point that my dad would sleep in a recliner in my bedroom doorway to catch me as I went cruising past. It didn’t get much better as I got older, and it’s still not unusual for me to get up at 2 AM, read for a while or watch a movie, and maybe, eventually, pass back out for an hour or so before work.
What I’m getting at is that I’m pretty familiar with insomnia, and the havoc it causes with, well, pretty much every aspect of life. So when I was perusing a list of psychological horror and saw Night Visions, I figured I would love it.
Night Visions is a big sprawling mess of a book. There are two stories happening here. One is the present-day story of Samantha and Frank, two former lovers who are trying to solve a disappearance-turned-murder in the present day. Samantha has severe insomnia and is taking part in an experimental treatment which seems to have two pretty lousy side effects: she is having horrific visions of murder scenes, and the people involved in the study are being murdered.
The second plot, interwoven throughout, is the story of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and a curse surrounding its creation? Maybe? The details are a little vague. But the gist of it is that the curse is passed on when a cursed person’s blood is mixed with their victim’s, and it causes the person who is cursed (cursee?) to murder people while sleepwalking. So there were like a dozen scenes of people trying to commit murder and managing to get stabbed themselves. There were so many secondary characters in these scenes, and the time jumped around so much, it was hard to keep it all straight.
There were also a lot of references to the death of St. Peter, but I’m not really sure how it tied in to the rest of the story. Some of the victims were killed in a similar way, but it seemed really random and meaningless to the rest of the story. For all it added, the various possessed murderers could’ve been performing a live-action game of Clue. There’s also the insomnia angle, but again, not sure how that plays in. Does the curse only affect people who have it? And does the music make the cursed people start killing, or is part of the curse just that you really really like the Variations?
The present-day stuff wasn’t much more coherent. The time period seems to be all over the place. People use cell phones, and it seems like there’s at least one meeting that happens over Skype, but crime scene photographers are still using the kind of flash bulbs that pop. Sam and Frank are not police officers, have absolutely no authority to be involved in any investigation, but are able to go into multiple crime scenes and poke around. I’m not a cop, but I watch a lot of SVU, and that seems like a pretty big no-no.
So we have a couple dozen characters, and a lot of murders, and a curse, and a piece of music, and St. Peter, and Sam and Frank and visions that don’t seem to serve any purpose at all other than to provide an opportunity to describe a murder scene twice. Oh, and an ending that was a pretty obvious sequel set-up, but I don’t know where the author could possibly go from here.
Thomas Fahy clearly had a lot of cool ideas, but I think this book would have been much better if he had used less of them, and developed them more thoroughly.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS