Having been born in 1981, I was too young to indulge in the late 1970s to mid 1990s boom in paperback original horror novels. That statement sounds odd, you think? Well, while I’ve long passed myself off as a literary type, as a young person I was somewhat faux literary. Oh, there were books I read and loved, to be sure. And I’ve had a deep reverence for literature since I was a child that is completely genuine. However, until I was in college, I eyed page counts with silent fear and shame. Since a number of paperback original horror novels were, in my view, quite long, they remained largely out of my orbit. I have memories of being entranced by their zany, often ridiculous covers. I even bought a couple and plowed through one called Howl-O-Ween by Gary L. Holleman. It was an ok werewolf story, but I was annoyed because it didn’t have much to do with Halloween. Unfortunately, by that time the boom was ending and I was becoming progressively more pretentious.
Naturally, now that I’m (somewhat) less pretentious, I’m bitter and resentful that I missed this fun and schlocky period in horror fiction. Luckily, a good number of horror novels from that time, paperback original and otherwise, are still easy to find at used bookstores. I’ve acquired quite a few. After dithering a bit about where to start, I chose this ghost story by T. M. Wright, who apparently made the ghost story something of a specialty. I was drawn to Sleepeasy because the plot description on the back suggested a merger of the ghost story with the hard boiled detective novel, and because a blurb from legendary horror author Ramsey Campbell described Mr. Wright as practicing “quiet horror.” I am a big film noir fan and, as anyone trapped with me during a discussion of cinema knows, I think my beloved horror genre too often abandons its artful gothic roots in favor of simplistic shocks and needless gore. The brief synopsis of Sleepeasy and the comments about Wright’s style made this book sound right up my alley.
Well, I finished the book a week or so ago and…well… What’s to be said? Well… Hmmm! First off, the novel opens with the death of the protagonist. That was very clever! Then…well… I’m seriously trying to avoid the old “nothing happens” complaint but, VERY little happens. There! I ALMOST avoided it! While researching Wright, I came across a comment on a blog post about his work. The commenter had read, or started reading, several of Wright’s novels and used the phrase “there’s no ‘there’ there,” or something very much like that. Honestly, nothing I can say here will top that in describing this book. There were several fascinating possibilities. There were a number of potentially interesting characters. There were some moments of tantalizing suggestion. There were passages that started to become evocative. Yet Wright seemed oddly determined to have none of it come together. He sets several things in motion and just lets them trundle along. If he was aiming for suggestions of the elliptical or the surreal, it didn’t take. It didn’t even come close.
There are some positives. Wright has a nice, dry sense of humor. One character, a tough police detective, was very likable and I looked forward to his sections. Those were also the only parts of the book to even approach delivering on the promise of a hard boiled atmosphere. Sadly, even these good points are badly underused. Would I give T. M. Wright another chance? Sure. Strange Seed and A Manhattan Ghost Story seem to have solid reputations. Maybe this one just wasn’t his best work. Truth be told, it wasn’t unpleasant or anything like that. It even had its moments. It just never really came together. That’s hardly the worst thing one can say about a book. So I’d try another Wright novel. But I’m in no hurry. None whatsoever.