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Until She Sleeps

Tim Lebbon

Cemetery Dance Publishing

US Hardcover Signed Limited First

ISBN 1-58767-052-6

185 Pages; $40.00

Date Reviewed: 04-23-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel




02-14-02, 04-25-02, 08-05-02, 12-13-02

Mainstream horror is a crowded field. Those who hold the field are phenomenally successful -- rich beyond all measure, known to the entire world, translated into more languages than some religious texts. I don't need to mention the names. You know who they are. Books, movies, blah, blah, blah. They hardly need a review. Those who enter the field do so at their own risk -- the risk of being lost in a river of write-alikes. The latest writer to take the plunge is Tim Lebbon. Lebbon's been around for a while, and has already built up an impressive resume. He's covered a lot of ground from surreal gore to neo-Sfnal musings. But he's not done anything quite so -- normal -- as 'Until She Sleeps', his latest novel from Cemetery Dance. In this novel he's perfectly in the pocket that is usually described as 'Stephen King Country', though the country in this case is the UK. You've got your youthful youth, your nicely isolated small town, and your local supernatural menace just waiting to be literally awakened. You've got your brand names and TV references. There's nothing here that hasn't been done one thousand times before. It's more what's missing that marks the difference, and pleasant difference it is. What's missing are 300 more pages.

At 185 pages, 'Until She Sleeps' is of a length that some writers would consider novella. I'm not sure about the word count and I don't care what length level it qualifies for. For my money, 'Until She Sleeps' is a bargain, and excellent novel, excellently produced at an excellent price. As with a novel written in any well-tread genre, the only thing that could possibly set 'Until She Sleeps' apart is great writing. Lebbon can do that. 'Until She Sleeps' is simply set up. One morning, workmen excavating under a church unearth a space in which there's a body. But as each is swept aside in a nightmare-come-real, they don't have time to realize this. The next thing the reader knows, we're following Andy, a13-year old boy in his summer adventures on the outskirts of the same village. Of course, this kid is different. He's sensitive. He rapidly figures out that something very bad, and rather unreal is happening to his village. What follows are 160 or so pages that will be turned with maximum speed.

Lebbon is skilled at sliding into the surreal, and he employs that skill less often and more subtly than he does in his other works. He lets his vivid and disturbing imagination out a bit more. When he does, the results are admirable and they help to plant a few unexpected prickles of real terror into a standard horror thriller. Lebbon expends a bit more work on focused characterization. He hones in on Andy, Stig and Rachel and gives a very sweet unvarnished picture of pre-teens that are on the cusp of becoming teenagers. This is where the balance of the focus lies, the narrative center of this novel, not the surreal horror that attacks the village. By focusing on a couple of characters, Lebbon in the end, leaves us wanting more and not wishing for less.

This is not to say that 'Until She Sleeps' is without problems. Since the horror is seeping into the entire village, there are 'crowd scenes', where the reader is witnessing multiple nightmares by walk-on characters. These scenes are unavoidable, given the plot, but they still seem to have crept in from another version of the same story, one that's about three times as long. They're certainly effectively written. Lebbon can wrap his hands around a nightmare like nobody's business. Yet, as refugees from another novel, they still a bit disheveled in comparison to the finely crafted bits of pre-teen angst that Lebbon slips in. And the pre-teen focus is admirable. When he does it, it almost slips by without the reader noticing until afterwards, when you realize that other horror writers have typically worked a little bit older crowd. Maybe it's just insightful writing, but when reading about Lebbon's kid characters, one does not think that they were exported from a Stephen King novel and imported into Lebbon's work.

The wrap -up here is a little bit of a mixed bag as well. On one hand, the final passages are eloquent and elegiac. But what precedes them seems just a little bit hurried. It's fine to be terse and to the point, but the resolution seemed to happen on the run towards those wonderful final passages. But all the quibbles are merely quibbles, because Tim Lebbon's at the helm here. He's amply aided and abetted by the beautiful CD production. Damn these guys know how to publish a book! Large, easy-to-read print, nice binding, good art direction -- when I spend forty bucks on a book, I want it to be like this. Perfect -- or as nearly as one can get when the writer is taking the kind of risks that Lebbon takes. 'Until She Sleeps' is going to be the main phrase running through the minds of readers -- or "Until I Sleep", which in most cases is going to be after you've finished turning the pages of this novel.