Written by EA Aymar — People of a certain age will remember those old Charles Atlas adverts, where the seven stone weakling has sand kicked in his face by a muscle-bound bully, and retaliates by working out to get a few muscles of his own in order to exact revenge. I mention it, because the hero of this book reminded me of that weedy guy.
Tom Starks is an unassuming academic who teaches English to mature students at a community college in Baltimore. He’s a widower, struggling to bring up his adopted 12-year-old daughter alone. However, the outwardly mild-mannered Tom is also seething with concealed rage. For Tom’s wife, Renee, was murdered – bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat in broad daylight – and the man found guilty of the crime has just been set free after a mere three years in prison.
The courts have decided that Chris Taylor’s conviction was flawed, but Tom still believes he was guilty. And that’s enough to make our worm turn. As the book begins, Tom has bought a gun and is psyching himself up at home. His master plan is to drive to Taylor’s house, gather enough courage to leave his car… and kill the bastard.
Unsurprisingly, once he arrives there he can’t bring himself to do the dastardly deed. But when his next move is to seek out the services of a hitman, you realise that the guy is deadly serious. Tom is determined to see justice served on the man he believes to have killed Renee, but has he got the right man? Can he keep control of the killers-for-hire that he’s hooked up with? And is murdering someone in cold blood ever a justifiable act, even in the pursuit of some twisted form of justice?
The story is told in the first person, from Tom’s viewpoint, and sadly at times it appears the supporting cast fades into the background, with characters lightly drawn rather than fully fleshed-out. For example, I’d have loved to learn more about Tom’s daughter Julie, and why her relationship with him is so strained. The decision to make the chief hitman (person?) a woman is inspired, but the scenes with Diane at times descend into caricature rather than carnage.
I’ll Sleep When Your Dead is high drama with a fair smattering of farce, from a wood eating pet rabbit to clandestine computer dates, madcap chases and tit-for-tat shootings, and there are moments when you can’t help but smile in the face of death and despair. Tom is an interesting, if rather wimpy, character. But even weaklings have their breaking point – and when Tom reaches his, be prepared for fireworks!
Sometimes you’ll want to give Tom a good shake, and there are others where he is just begging for a big hug, but overall I liked his complicated character. This thriller marks the debut of Panama-born, US-based author EA Aymar, who is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and SinC. It is billed as the first in a trilogy, so I imagine we’ll be seeing plenty more of Tom in the future.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars