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Sleepyhead Hardcover – July 9, 2002

Book 1 of 3 in the Tom Thorne Novels Series

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (July 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066212995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066212999
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,128,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a variation on the serial killer theme, newcomer Billingham's villain doesn't want to actually kill his victims (those who do die he considers mistakes ) so much as induce massive strokes that will leave them cerebrally conscious while otherwise in a completely comatose state known as locked-in syndrome. Combining elements of both police and medical procedural thriller, the novel follows frayed, middle-aged London detective inspector Tom Thorne as he chases down a series of red herrings, gradually becoming more and more obsessed with the killer's masterpiece, 24-year-old Alison Willetts, and the seductive doctor, Anne Coburn, who cares for her. This romantic subplot becomes entwined with the main plot as Anne's colleague and paramour, Dr. Jeremy Bishop (whose amusement with Thorne's growing infatuation with Anne reveals a particular sort of passive-aggressive sadism), fuels Thorne's rising suspicion of him with verbal jousts. Billingham, a TV writer and stand-up comic, manifests a competent enough hand with plotting and dialogue, particularly at romantic moments ( Now, this carpet has unhappy memories and I'm still not hundred percent sure I've got the smell of vomit out of it... You smooth-talking bastard ). Overall, he displays a solid grasp of the form, though not at the gut-wrenching level of such peers as Mo Hayder. Billingham excels in characterization, however, and it's likely that readers will develop empathy for his conflicted protagonist and the compassionate physician who takes justice into her own hands.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

With this first work, Billingham has concocted an intense, creepy variation on the serial-killer theme this villain doesn't want to murder but instead tries to induce strokes that will lock his victims into a perpetual comatose state. His first three attempts fail (the victims die), but he finally succeeds with Alison Willetts, a young woman who ends up able to see, hear, and think but little else. The case falls to London detective Tom Thorne, a slightly tattered middle-aged cop who has seen too much death and finds his judgment clouded when he falls in love with Anne Coburn, Alison's doctor, while suspecting that Anne's best friend is the perpetrator. The strength of what could have been a standard medical/police procedural lies in its complex characters, serpentine plot twists, and dark ending. Fans of Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch and Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse will enjoy Thorne, another flawed protagonist haunted by his past. Already a best seller in Great Britain (and deservedly so), this is highly recommended for popular fiction collections. [A Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Mystery Guild featured alternate.] Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, I.
- Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

I finished and thought the basic plot was good, there was just too much padding.
The author is English, so there are a number of slang phrases that American readers will have to think about in order to follow the conversation.
Thomas Duff
The idea of a nut running around and not wanting to kill you, but to throw you into a coma is pretty whacked.
Kindle Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Duff HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Based on the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham from the library. It's a real dark crime "who dun it" with twists that keep you reading to the end.

Detective Inspector Tom Thorne gets involved with a number of murders that are seemingly random until they find a "failed" attempt. The victim who survived is completely paralyzed due to a stroke, and Thorne figures out that she was actually the "success" of the killer. It turns out that the killer is really trying to "liberate" women from their bodies, leaving the only thing he values... their minds. He deliberately induces a stroke by physical manipulation of certain blood vessels, nerves and muscles. Thorne thinks he knows who is doing the killing, but his evidence against him keeps coming up short. The mental games between Thorne and his suspect grow more intense until Thorne is ready to admit defeat. But the story comes to a dramatic end with a final confrontation with a number of lives on the line.

As I mentioned above, the story is very dark. Not only is the subject matter intense (a killer wanting to turn his victims into vegetables, not corpses), but Thorne is a damaged individual with a lot of personal and emotional baggage. The author is English, so there are a number of slang phrases that American readers will have to think about in order to follow the conversation. And even though you think you know who the killer is, you just know there's going to be a twist somewhere.

Well written, and very different.... I look forward to his future work.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By RachelWalker on July 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is, quite simply, possibly one of the best debut novels in recent years. It is slightly more assured and tightly plotted than Mo Hayder's Birdman (although its nowhere near as good as her second book, "the Treatment"). Its more well written than Denise Mina's Garnethill. Its far less complicated than John Connolly's Every Dead Thing. and more sparesely written than Boston teran's God is A Bullet.
In short, it signposts amazing talent.
The plot is great...its really original, and very compelling. shadows of a motive are given all the way throughout the book, WHAT the killer wants, and a hint or two about why he wants, but Billingham doesnt fully discolse the killers motivations until the end. And the killer himself is chilling...what he seeks to do to his victims is horrifying.
The plot is well paced, and the characters are drawn very well. Tom Thorne is a likeable, very human man, dirven by failures from his past. (Arent they all.) An able hero, his intelligence is high, but when no one listens to him when he tells them who he thinks the killer is, he is at a loss for what to do, and pursues his enquiries doggedly, despite the marked disbelief of others.
His relationship with Anne Coburn is great, freshens up the material and adds a really interesting subplot. The reader roots for the two characters to suceed in their relationship, such do we care about and like them.
The plotting is tight, and the book subtly turns its way towards a great conclusion.
I can't wait to read "Scaredy Cat."
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on November 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Sleepyhead" is a well-crafted debut novel with few of the glitches that usually bedevil the neophyte mystery writer. The plot is swift and spare and the story is not over-populated with characters.
Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is confronted with a serial killer whose aim is not to "kill" but render his victims powerless to move or speak, yet remain fully conscious. So far, he has had one "success," Allison Willetts, who is under the care of neurologist Anne Coburn. Thorne becomes dead certain he has the killer identified, but has no proof. Things become awkward indeed, when the suspect turns out to be a life-long friend of Dr. Coburn who Thorne is beginning to admire. An unusual literary device has each chapter beginning with the italicized thoughts of Allison, who cannot communicate. You become increasingly fond of this brave and spirited girl with an offbeat sense of humor who is suffering this terrible misfortune.
I don't know if I have ever heard of a crime novelist getting his start as a stand-up comic, but Mr. Billingham makes the most of his background by supplying excellent dialogue:
"Thorne raised his eyebrows. "Do women still get upset if you ask how old they are?" She plonked an elbow on the table and leaned her chin on the palm of her hand, trying her best to look severe. "This one does."
"Sorry" Thorne tried his best to look contrite. "How much do you weigh?"
No matter how serious the rest of the book, I had to stop and laugh at the offbeat lines Mr. Billingham fed Thorne. "Sleepyhead" is a fresh inventive debut with a satisfying twist worthy of a veteran. Reviewer
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 1, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Mark Billingham, Sleepyhead (Avon, 2001)
What is it about British mystery authors cranking out excellent first novels? Nicci French, Mo Hayder, and Minette Walters have all waltzed down the pike in the last decade and taken the world by storm. Now you can add Mark Billingham to the list.
Billingham's first novel, Sleepyhead, is about a truly twisted individual, even more twisted than Hayder's birdman-this one's dead bodies are failed experiments. What he's really after, he gets in Alison Willetts, a girl who is mysteriously left at a hospital suffering from what is known as locked-in syndrome, a type of stroke that leaves the victim fully conscious, but paralyzed and unable to communicate. The police find an ever-growing string of bodies as the killer attempts to duplicate his handiwork.
Very well-paced for a book of its length, and very readable. Billingham knows where to put all the twists and turns. The characters are a little more wooden than one would expect, and a bit more predictable, but then mystery readers have been spoiled recently. (Odd, because Billingham has one of his characters remark early on that he doesn't fir the policeman-on-television stereotype; perhaps we're just used to that these days?) Still, this is a fast, fun read with some excellent twists. *** ½
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More About the Author

Mark Billingham is one of the UK's most acclaimed and popular crime writers. A former actor, television writer and stand-up comedian, his series of novels featuring D.I. Tom Thorne has twice won him the Crime Novel Of The Year Award as well as the Sherlock Award for Best British Detective and been nominated for seven CWA Daggers. His standalone thriller IN THE DARK was chosen as one of the twelve best books of the year by the Times and his debut novel, SLEEPYHEAD was chosen by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 books that had shaped the decade. Each of his novels has been a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller.

A television series based on the Thorne novels is screening in the USA on Encore in June 2012, starring David Morrissey (from "The Walking Dead") as Tom Thorne and series based on the standalone thrillers RUSH OF BLOOd and IN THE DARK are currently in development with the BBC.

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