RARA-AVIS: SO LIKE SLEEP by Jeremiah Healy

From: James R. Winter ( winter_writes@earthlink.net)
Date: 04 Jun 2005

Okay, last one of these for a while. I promise. At least a few days. And I not only finished this one, but I did it last month, which means the book is a little more fresh in my memory.

John Cuddy is in a new apartment, thanks to a bomb blast in THE STAKED GOAT. On his doorstep arrives Lt. Murphy, seeking a favor. Murphy looked the other way when Cuddy set up a murderer for a dose of his own medicine. Now Murphy wants Cuddy to look into the shooting death of a coed in a small private college north of Boston. The accused is a black student, her boyfriend. The boy had a gun and confessed to the killing. Everybody, including the boy, believes he did it. The trouble is there are no winesses and the confession came from a questionable hypnotherapy group. Cuddy goes to investigate. What he finds are a local cop with a bad temper and a yen for the deceased girl, a wealthy bully (whom I'm convinced would have been played well by Ted McGinley in his annoying prime), and a psychiatrist who apparently gets a little upset when his methods are questioned. It's the shrink who convinces Cuddy that boy is all wrong for the murder, and he even manages to convince !
 one of the local cops, along with the girl's father.

I have to give props to Healy on this one for taking an impossible premise - Man confesses to murder with weapon in hand, case closed, except he didn't do it - and making it work. The hypnotherapy angle is pretty obvious from the get-go, so Healy focuses more on the motivations. Why does someone want to be that guy from the Tantalus episode of STAR TREK (or the planetarium ep of SOUTH PARK. Either one works.) What lengths will he go to to cover it up (because you don't have a ceiling-mounted brain zapper in 1987)? Again, it could have been a pretty ridiculous story, except that Dr. Marek is shown not as a mad scientist, but a quack with tenure and access to some really good drugs.

The other piece that makes this book work is William Daniels. Daniels is the young black man accused of the murder, and is pretty much screwed no matter what happens. Daniels comes from a bad neighborhood and, being the smartest guy in the room, is an outcast. At first, he goes to Boston College, but transfers to the private school in the 'burbs. At home, he's alienated for not being "black enough." At school, he's neither white nor wealthy (and his smarts intimidate some of the moneyed students whose parents bought their way in.) The whole situation and the murder rap leave Daniels hating the world and not wanting Cuddy's help. But Cuddy is doing this for Murphy, who's doing this for Daniels' mother.

Healy's device of conversations with Cuddy's dead wife are used to great effect here. A few more voices in Cuddy's head, and he could easily show up in a Del Farmer novel. But here, it's Cuddy's way of sorting life out, as well as holding on to someone he's lost. The conversations are not as poignant here. You have a ghost in Cuddy's head trying to force him to be objective. A lesser writer would have made this seem gimmicky.

SO LIKE SLEEP isn't as violent as THE STAKED GOAT, but it's far more complex. There's a reason the Cuddy series lasted as long as it has.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 04 Jun 2005 EDT