Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M, murder/mystery
Length: Novella (40,153 words, 134 PDF pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
Summary Review: A touching story about two unlikely men who found love amidst the ruin that was one man ‘s life.
Daniel Weber (“Web” to his friends) was a promising young biology student on the fast track to a prestigious grad program. That was a year and a half ago. Now he’s working a dead-end security job and living in his cousin’s two-flat. Thanks to the mysterious George, he’s got gaps in his memory too big for his pocket notebook to fill.
Jesse Ray Jones is the taxidermist who’s trying to help the Faris Natural Sciences Center secure the MAHPS Grant, a funding that would keep the foundering organization afloat for a few more years. He looks like a skatepunk and talks like a science major, which pushes Web’s every last hot-button.
It’s lust at first sight…but hooking up proves difficult when a supervisor at the Center is found bludgeoned to death in the petroglyph alcove—and Jesse and Web are the primary suspects.
I love Jordan Castillo Price’s paranormal stories and can’t get enough of them because the worlds she creates are always dark and scary, especially in her PsyCop series. This time the author has given M/M fans a contemporary story in a different setting, a museum, a story that is part murder/mystery, part human tragedy and part romance which, taken together, turned out to be a one of her best yet. Sleepwalker is about many things but the most important element of the story is Daniel Weber’s sense of humour as his life is falling apart; a life that definitely is not a bowl of cherries.
“Web” is 24 years old and works in a dead end security job at the local museum in Faris, Illinois, a small imaginary town of only a couple hundred people that is famous for an F-5 tornado that levelled almost everything in its wake 15 years ago. Shortly after the tornado hit, the town was given enough money to build a National Sciences Center but its declining population base was insufficient to maintain the financial viability of the Center so the museum was seeking a grant to keep up some of the remaining artifacts, most of which were falling apart. Luke, a supervisor at the Center, decided to hire a firm that specialized in restoration, which is how Web’s life changed for the better, a whole lot better, because Jesse Ray Jones, the taxidermist whose job it was to prepare the exhibits for the grant meeting, walked into his life, dimples and all.
Being a security guard was the only job Web could get after a brain tumour ended a future filled with promise. Told in his first person POV, you will experience Web’s frustrations when he can’t remember whole chunks of his day or night as he zones out and sleepwalks, and you will celebrate his small triumphs when he remembers even a small slice of what happened in those lost minutes or even hours of every day. His “voice” was so funny that many times I laughed out loud as he recounted his activities and how he tried to steal time wherever he could to make his shift go faster. Web lives in a “two flat” with his cousin Alex and his wife Kathy, a police officer whose name he could never recall, and he has to keep referring to his notes in the little notebook he carries everywhere, to try and remember Kathy’s name whenever he thinks of her or sees her, which was really funny but sad at the same time. The only person he has no difficulty remembering is Alex who had saved his life on that fateful day the tornado hit.
The Center was so cheap that Web didn’t even have a gun; his only weapon was a can of pepper spray which he probably never had occasion to use but I couldn’t get the picture out of my head of him going on his rounds with nothing to defend himself but pepper spray. 🙂 Bridget, the owner, was such a tightwad that she had cut back on everything including the cleaning crew, which meant that the exhibits were covered in dust, but you wouldn’t have been able to see it as the lighting in the Center was almost non existent since the electricity was kept at the bare minimum to maintain the insurance. I loved it when Web went on his rounds and talked to the exhibits, and it was obvious that the author knew her way around a museum as the book was dense with details about working in such a facility among its long dead inhabitants, and all the routines that made up the daily life of the staff.
The major plus of working at the Center was that employees were given that most important of all benefits – health care, so it was understandable that Web was furious when he found out through his snooping that Luke planned to outsource the security, which meant that he would be out of a job. For someone in his precarious health that would be a death sentence. Luke had another nefarious plan which would screw Jesse’s firm out of their fees, so when he was found bludgeoned to death the two prime suspects were Web and Jesse Ray.
This story is so well written, from the plot to the characters, and there’s so much going on that it’s difficult to give you more than a flavour without heading in the direction of spoilers. Jordan is such a wonderful writer that Web comes alive in technicolour in her vivid imagination, and you will fall in love with his character. I was amazed at her insight into what victims of brain tumours endure, as Web’s desolation and constant questioning of himself about where his ‘lost’ time went, and his frustration when he could not recall his actions was really painful to experience. He even went so far as to ask himself whether he could have killed Luke, since he had zoned out during the time he was murdered. One of the most surprising things about Sleepwalker was how funny it was. I thought that a book about a character with a brain tumour would be a real downer but it was surprisingly upbeat, and we tend to forget that people who have a dire health diagnosis can still be fun. However, I must say that at times the author’s sense of humour verged on the macabre as she put poor Web through the wringer. Web even named his tumour George, and he blamed George for just about everything bad in his life, and it was strange to hear him wondering which person was actually present – Web or George.
If you’re looking for a book with lots and lots of sex you will be disappointed because you won’t find it in Sleepwalker, but what there was was fresh and erotic, as Web tried everything he could to get into Jesse Ray’s pants, and while he did succeed in the end, the sex was definitely not as full-on as some readers might want. Just saying! However there is a HFN ending for Web and Jesse Ray which should satisfy most romance readers. If there were two weak links in the book they were probably the identification and apprehension of the killer, although the author did a really good job, but that was not IMO the major element of the story even though a fair amount of time was spent on the investigation and questioning of the suspects. My other disappointment was that there was not enough face time with Jesse Ray, mainly because this was Web’s POV.
If you’re looking for a heartwarming story about caring and family with a lot of fun and three dimensional characters, Sleepwalker has it in spades. Highly recommended.