Sleeping Policemen

September 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

policemenSleeping Policemen by Dale Bailey & Jack Slay, Jr.

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A sleeping policeman, according to the opening pages of the book, is another term for a speed bump. This was my first encounter with the phrase, so I looked it up, and sure enough, this is a common term in Britain, Malta, and the Caribbean. It comes up early in the story because three of the main characters are returning from a night out and run over a pedestrian. One of the characters — oddly enough, the one born and raised amid the Louisiana oil rigs, who was least likely to know the phrase — says it aloud when they hit the man, making the connection, but as the story progresses, we learn that the phrase has a double meaning. As the characters try to escape and evade what they’ve done, they’re drawn into a circle of crime involving corrupt police, who are effectively sleeping, waiting for their opportunity. Their downward spiral is dark, profane, and graphic.

Bailey and Slay seem to be channeling Jack Ketchum with this story. It’s chock full of violence and sex and the fine line that exists between the two, but it’s lacking whatever it is that exists in Ketchum’s fiction (“charm” isn’t the right word, though it’s the one that comes to mind) to elevate it to that level. Part of it, I think, is that the characters aren’t that likable. The authors do a good job of giving them much to lose — three of them come from privileged backgrounds, while the fourth is looking to leave his dead-end hometown — but they don’t do much to make us like them. Nick, the main character, is the closest thing to a protagonist here, but early in the story, a choice he makes distances the reader from him, so there’s a drive to see how the story ends for these characters, but there’s no connection with them to make us care for them.

The authors have a great command of the language. Their style is introspective and poetic, and their observations on the human condition are thoughtful and apt. The story itself, though, is brutal and difficult to read, which is odd because the language and the tension kept me engaged. It’s the kind of story that shocks and might offend, but it’s also the kind of story that you can’t turn away from.

Sleeping Policemen is a dark journey into youth, privilege, and greed. I enjoyed reading the book for the narrative voice, but not for the story itself. I get the feeling that, a year from now, when I try to recall details from the book, I’ll come up blank, though I’ll definitely remember the imagery and certain scenes. Fans of dark, nihilistic fiction, like Jack Ketchum or Chuck Palahniuk, are probably the right audience for this book.

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