Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Puccini would have had no idea what Ellie Marney planned to do with his great aria from Turandot Nessun Dorma (or None Shall Sleep). Opera lovers across the world would be cringing at her audacity if the book were just not so good. One bump continues to bother (and that will be discussed later), but in nearly every other respect, the book is a winner from paragraph one.
It is no secret why this book carries a feeling of authenticity. It’s because the author is the genuine article, a writer who has gone to all the right places, spoken in depth with real life mortuary attendants and morticians, and put her valuable knowledge into this book. She is a woman who knows what hard work and thorough research can produce. The result is the glorious None Shall Sleep.
Strangely, the story is set in 1982, when Ronald Reagan was being instructed by his wife, Nancy, how to run the country. It was a year that could be described as the year nothing much happened.
Marney has a strong basis on which to build her plot. Researching is only one step towards building a story. Readers require a likely yarn, something that taxes the mind and raises and keeps the imagination afire. She provides all of these elements but includes an item that couldn’t have happened ‘even in America’, and that is, juveniles carrying out the roles these teenagers did while members of the FBI. That is the premise upon which the whole story rests. It’s a major issue for me but will have no effect on the YA population for whom the book has been written. Whatever, I’m sure there is full agreement that juveniles chasing serial killers and interpreting the perverted mind of an imprisoned sociopath are hardly likely to affect the psyches of ‘already damaged’ young people.
A successful book requires strong, believable characters who can appear sufficiently close to the readers’ mindset as to convince of their genuineness. If they have some ‘weakness’ they must struggle to overcome, they will earn identity with readers almost immediately. Both Emma and Travis have ‘histories’. Both share as their companionship grows warmer. However, when it comes to relative strengths, it is Emma who is the character covered in glory at the end. This is the way of the world – the women reign in literature as in so many broader avenues of life. Some readers may see the irony in that. As for the hierarchy in FBI ranks, Cooper is the freethinker (relatively speaking) whose fine work is destroyed by the ham-handed efforts of his superior. No matter what the disaster, the story never loses our interest.
The novel is well paced and told in a tone with which teenagers will be comfortable. The right people, the accepted values of western society, succeed in the end. The settings vary little and contribute less to the novel than other ingredients. Little, but not less. When they are called upon to put the events in place, an asylum for example, they are carefully constructed.
I mention in passing that the book seems to be treating critics in very strange ways. One reports that “None Shall Sleep pulled me in and didn’t let go” while another informs us that, “[It] blew me away with its daring premise, gripped me with its twists and turns, and kept me up all night…”.
Alas! Only regular trips to the bathroom keep me up at night.
Loved the book.
By Ellie Marney
Allen & Unwin
$19.99; 400 pp