AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

Blue cover as background, an illustration of a bloody knife with the reflection of the murderer mirrored in the blade, blood dripping from the black titlesNarrated by Christine Lakin, Maxwell Hamilton, Zach Villa & Jake Abel

Why I listened to it:  It was recommended to me by a friend and I’ve enjoyed other books from this author too.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads) In 1982, two teenagers—serial killer survivor Emma Lewis and US Marshal candidate Travis Bell—are recruited by the FBI to interview convicted juvenile killers and provide insight and advice on cold cases. From the start, Emma and Travis develop a quick friendship, gaining information from juvenile murderers that even the FBI can’t crack. But when the team is called in to give advice on an active case—a serial killer who exclusively hunts teenagers—things begin to unravel. Working against the clock, they must turn to one of the country’s most notorious incarcerated murderers for help: teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson.

Despite Travis’s objections, Emma becomes the conduit between Simon and the FBI team. But while Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he’s an expert manipulator playing a very long game…and he has his sights set on Emma.

Captivating, harrowing, and chilling, None Shall Sleep is an all-too-timely exploration of not only the monsters that live among us, but also the monsters that live inside us.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): None Shall Sleep is a YA crime thriller set in the 1980s – a mix between a kind of Mindhunters and Silence of the Lambs with teenage main characters. The primary POV character is Emma Lewis. She’s 18 now but when she was 16, she was abducted and held by a serial killer. She was the only one who escaped. She is approached by Agent Cooper from the FBI for help in researching serial killers for the fledgling Behavioural Analysis Unit. There are some teen serial killers who won’t talk to the FBI; will Emma be perhaps able to get through as a fellow teen?

She is paired with Travis Bell, a 19-year-old whose father, a US Marshall, was killed by a teen serial killer, Simon Gutmunsson.  Both Travis and Emma have a special interest in teen serial killers. And Travis is already at US Marshall school as well. The FBI offers them something approximating a summer internship and extra college credit for help. They will stay at Quantico in the dorms and be able to take classes with FBI recruits when they’re not interviewing incarcerated serial killers.

Emma and Travis are strictly NOT to be involved in any active cases. But they keep hearing about “Pennsylvania” and a series of strange murders there. Agent Cooper gets a letter from Simon Gutmunsson which indicates he knows something about the case and he asks Emma to interview him to see what she can find out. Thus Travis and Emma become embroiled in the case and have to dodge and weave through the various FBI politics about it all, not to mention serial killers, to solve the crime and save the day.

Simon is not exactly Hannibal Lecter of course and Emma is not Clarice Starling. There are major differences, not the least of which is their ages. But there are similarities and it works as a shorthand to explain the dynamic. Marney succeeds in creating the creepy vibe without going too far – Thomas Harris went too far for me with Hannibal (#NotOverIt) so I was very glad of that.

There was one particular thing I did not see coming at all and it kind of took my breath away but it also explained a lot about some of the other choices in the book. And no, I’m not going to spoil it here.

Emma is fierce and impetuous and not very interested in bowing to authority if she thinks they’re being ridiculous (and they often are being ridiculous); Travis is more politic in his approach, more willing to follow the rules and work within the system. Emma wants to burn it all down.

Simon’s twin sister, Kristen, provides some useful insight to the case – in fact, it could be said that she does more than Emma and Travis to make the breakthroughs but it is nonetheless Emma and Travis who have the idea to speak to her and who build the relationship so she’s willing to do so.

The identity of the serial killer is known to the audience early as there is POV from him – fortunately not while he’s doing his worst but he’s definitely super creepy too.

The story is told in third person present which I found a little challenging to get into but after a while I was able to just go with it. Looking back, I can see why it made sense.

What else? The narration is unusual and that, too, took a little getting used to. Emma’s perspective (the bulk of the book) is voiced by Christine Lakin (who also has narrated some of my favourite Holly Black books). There are also some POV sections for Travis (perhaps a couple of chapters in all) and some even shorter sections from Agent Cooper, both narrated by Maxwell Hamilton. When they’re narrating they do all the voices for each character except for Simon and for the (other) villain (ie the one they’re trying to catch – Simon is already behind bars in a high security psychiatric facility). Jake Abel narrates all of Simon’s dialogue. He has no POV sections but anytime Simon is speaking, it is Mr. Abel’s voice the listener hears, not the voice of whichever narrator is voicing the POV character. And then (by process of elimination) Zach Villa narrates the villain’s POV section (which is not much more than a short chapter) and all of his dialogue.  This latter is something of a spoiler on audio because at one point the listener can tell simply by the new voice in play that all is not what it seems. This would not have been apparent in print until the author wished it to become apparent so there’s that.

It’s an unusual mix of narration styles. I didn’t hate it but I did find it a little confusing and, like the tense, it took a bit of getting used to.

Every now and then there’s also a sound effect added to make the listen more like a radio play but those additions were inconsistent and again, I found this a little unusual. Not bad, but… different.

Each narrator did a great job; the individual performances were strong, with solid characterisation and good pacing and tone. I believed the characters and felt like I understood them better for hearing them.

There is, perhaps, if you squint really hard, a hint of a sniff of a future romance between Emma and Travis but this is not a romance book. As a YA crime thriller, it delivered on it’s promise. I liked the 1980s setting (the absence of mobile phones make such a difference when it comes to solving crime and personal safety!) and I do hope Marney writes more in this world. I’d like to see what’s next fro Emma and Travis. And of course, I’m always up for romance between them as well as the (hopefully) series develops?

Grade: B+

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