Friday, 20 March 2020

Emma's Review: The Sleeper Lies by Andrea Mara

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

I step forward, breathing fast. Movement. I force myself to take another step. I think about all of it, all of the deaths and all of the accidents and all of the pain. And I know what I need to do.

It’s March 2018, and the country is covered in snow. Roads are impassable, shops are running out of food, and official advice is to stay indoors. Marianne lives on her own and works from home, so this isn’t a problem. Until she wakes one morning in her house in the middle of nowhere and finds footprints trailing all across her garden. Half-asleep, she is at first curious. Then she realises the footprints stop at her bedroom window, and curiosity gives way to unease. Who was looking in at her, while she was asleep?

As the big freeze worsens and the stalker begins to leave disturbing mementoes, Marianne’s thoughts go back two decades to the schoolyard outburst that tore her childhood apart. Old feuds resurface, and the mystery of her mother’s death is pulled back into focus. Marianne begins to see patterns – is there a link between her stalker and the true crime story she’s been obsessively researching, or does the answer lie closer to home?

In the end, 24 days is all it takes for everything to come crashing down.

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Many thanks to Poolbeg books for my copy of The Sleeper Lies to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Andrea Mara has done it again with her third book The Sleeper Lies confirming that she is an Irish author to be reckoned with and one who certainly deserves great acclaim for the gripping, twisted and downright creepy books that she writes. There are only a select few authors for whom I will branch outside of my normal preferred two reading genres and Andrea is definitely one of them. She is the master alongside Liz Nugent in my opinion of writing crime/thrillers packed full of mystery, intrigue and suspense. So many red herrings are thrown in and similar to her previous two books I really was led up the garden path and thrown completely off track as to who the actual culprit was that was messing with our main character Marianne, both in terms of her mind and her physical well being. Using the Beast from the East which we navigated our way through several years ago as her inspiration the author creates a tense, stifling atmosphere throughout the book which we all experienced ourselves confined to the house whilst the snow built up outside.

Within this book it's like there are two stories at play taking us from an isolated village in the middle of nowhere in Wicklow to a small town in Denmark and back again. I loved the chapters set in Denmark, it was like I was reading a Scandinavian crime thriller within the middle of an Irish mystery. Not many could pull that off but here the author did very successfully. I actually wanted to read more about Denmark and I thought this aspect of the story could have been an entire book in itself. If the author chose to write a book in this setting in the future I would definitely read it as she really brought the time and place alive and had me rapidly turning the pages which in fact she did throughout this brilliant story. She would definitely give the many Scandi crime writers a good run for their money that's for sure.

With anyone else having another story amidst the main plot of the book would have been a recipe for disaster and things could have gone off track very easily but here Andrea Mara weaves the two strands together to perfection. This only serves to have the reader questioning even further as to what could the connections be if indeed there are any at all. Your senses are heightened throughout as you grasp at any clues or information presented to you and as Marianne sets out to discover the truth you are with her every step of the way. Although you do become more freaked out with every incident the strangeness of which only intensify with every chapter.

The very brief prologue to The Sleeper Lies has the reader sitting up and taking notice for it is disturbing and eerie and so many questions are raised. But then we go backwards to 24 days earlier and Marianne, who lives on her own in a rural cottage in Wicklow, wakes up to a snow covered landscape. The likes of which has not been seen for many years. But as she sets about her day she discovers a series of footprints in the snow which lead right up to her bedroom window. To say this is frightening and weird is an understatement. Who was spying on her and why? This made me feel very uncomfortable, to think that someone could be looking at you through your window at the dead of night unbeknownst to you.

From that moment on Marianne's senses are heightened and she is on the lookout for any more strange and unnerving incidents that occur. To others, as in the local guards that she informs of what is going on, all this seems nothing out the ordinary. A reasonable explanation can be given for every incident of which there are many that subsequently occur. But every person knows whether they are right or wrong, whether what they see is real or imaginary. We have great intuitions and we should never doubt what our gut is telling us deep down no matter whether others believe us or not. But Marianne is right not to falter from her stance that she is being followed and messed around with. It's not all in her head and with the support from the online forum based around amateur sleuthing she sets about uncovering just who is behind everything and to what purpose do all these menacing events serve?

I loved the idea of Marianne communicating with the friends she has made in the online forum as they were a back up for her at a time when others doubted her and in turn she was doubting herself. Having built up such knowledge, looking up and discussing old cases online it really served to help her when her own life starts to implode. As Marianne navigates between what is happening in the present she also turns back to her own personal life as a mystery surrounding her own family begins to open its doors combined with the reappearance of someone she had firmly believed to be very much in her distant past. She believed everything to be clear cut as she had been told certain things by someone she loved and trusted but maybe she needs to delve that little bit deeper and not take everything at face value. Marianne faces the toughest, most strenuous and threatening of times and the journey we take with her is a riveting one.

Admittedly, I did feel for the majority of this story that the pace was very slow and that jumping back and forth between the present and the past by several years and even much further did become slightly confusing. But once I reached the halfway point I came to a better understanding of what the author was trying to do and why the need for a slow unravelling as to what was actually going on. Not much can happen when you are isolated by a snow storm that paralysed a country and it was better overall to drip feed little nuggets of discovery to the reader as slowly as possible in order to build up to the finale. Really Andrea was building up an overall picture to allow the reader to try and slot pieces of the puzzle together. Characters, scenes and info that I started to question the validity of their inclusion slowly began to make sense and as with her previous books no person or tiny piece of information should be discounted or disregarded. She really is one clever author who knows exactly how to throw her readers off the scent so as when the ultimate moment of revelation does arrive you are left staggering in shock. Every character and event be it minor or major is there for a purpose and you will find yourself reeling when connections become apparent and ultimately you will kick yourself as to why you didn't guess what exactly was going on and why it all began in the first place?

The Sleeper Lies was so carefully constructed and plotted and right from page one your suspicions are raised and so many questions emerge. When the big reveal comes you are left blinded by it all but then you want to go back and read it all again because you know on the second reading you would view everything entirely differently and would appreciate truly how clever and well written this story is. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending The Sleeper Lies but don't read it on your own in the dark or you'll be freaking out at every little noise because what happens to Marianne is very creepy, unsettling, unpleasant and disconcerting. Andrea Mara provides her readers with a mind blowing twist and a deeply satisfying conclusion to what is an absorbing, haunting, tense and thrilling read and is once again an utter triumph for the author. Let's hope she continues in this vein for many years to come.

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