I’ve read a few of Charlie Huston’s books before. He has a terse, swift style punctuated with outbursts of detailed anatomical horror and expertly choreographed violence. He’s gone from reluctant hitmen to a noir reinvention of the vampire that I still think begs for adaptation if only to answer a lot of the cliched work that gets paraded as being innovative.
Sleepless represents a profound change in style and approach for him. It’s a story set in the near future, a world ravaged by a variant on BSE that causes permanent insomnia as well as the fractious political and environmental travails that we are experiencing now. The world building here is intense, sometimes pages of details that work within the different narrator’s views and experiences of the world. Amidst the chaos and the retreat into virtual worlds there is tenderness, tragedy and the will to do the right thing even as the world descends into violence and bloodshed.
Structurally, it’s an ambitious book that does not yield it’s worth immediately. Three different points of view, all of whom communicating different points of the same situation as well as a conspiracy that reaches into the past. The violence is brutal, energetic and enthralling ranging from special forces trained fights through to prolonged torture/interrogation. Yet there are scenes of beautiful poignancy where we see a good man trying to hold his family together and it all hangs together in a way that leaves you chilled and moved by the conclusion.
Huston understands that a story, no matter how brutal, no matter how much it extrapolates upon current trends and future technologies and political actions needs to be sourced in character and emotion. His compassion speaks to the truth of the best noir, damaged people doing their best and the hell that it puts them into.