Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep is great little private eye novel that juxtaposes the very familiar with a unique concept. While reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe private eye novels, but Tremblay threw in extra curves that come directly out of the present. The title is definitely a play on Raymond Chandler’s first Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep. That novel was made into a movie that stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Thirty-year old private investigator Mark Genevich has narcolepsy. The condition is a result of a car accident eight years ago. Mark was left severely damaged, but his best friend died. Unable to hold a job, Mark tries to follow through on what was initially a lark in his early twenties. Still, even with his disability, he’s managed to stay awake long enough to almost make a living. He’s subsidized by his mother, Ellen, who lets him live in a building she owns and occasionally fronts him money.
Mark is barely able to take care of himself and is a constant threat to himself because of his smoking. At first, I was somewhat dismayed by all the problems he had, but when I started reading about the ways he tried to compensate for them, I was hooked. Mark has had to learn all kinds of tricks to keep himself awake, and to manage the emotional frailty that results from those times when his body becomes a virtual prison. I’ve never known anyone with narcolepsy, and the disease is often the punch line of a joke. But for people who have this, it’s obviously an uphill battle every day.
Part of Mark’s vulnerabilities includes the inability to remember things as well as the likelihood of fantasizing about things. He has to work hard just to sort out the truth of his life. Taking on other people’s problems is difficult for him, and usually he keeps his work pared down to stuff with a flexible deadline and little client involvement.
When he gets pictures that immediately remind him of Jennifer Times, the daughter of the local district attorney and television show semi-star, Mark’s life takes an immediate turn into dangerous territory. Tremblay hits a lot of familiar notes in his novel, but these are stories I love. Anyone who is a fan of noir will probably have a great time turning pages and watching Mark track down the bad guys.
The plot appears to be convoluted and it wanders around a lot, but basically everything stays close to the bone in this one. Everything has consequence and nothing gets overlooked. Some of the characters do get rather short shrift, but the conceit of the novel is original enough to generate interest. As in all noir novels, this one also has its roots in the past, and that past has to be revealed.
Tremblay’s prose is immediately readable and it’s easy to keep turning pages. The dialogue is sharp and witty in several places, and there are a number of weird and wacky characters surrounding Mark’s life. If you like these kind of novels, you will find too many new curves or twists, and you might even get to the final reveal before Mark does, but there are enough new things to keep the interest up.
I had a good time getting to know these characters. Tremblay is supposed to be working on a sequel to this novel and I plan on picking it up.