Phew. I’ve sure reviewed a lot of fantasy novels lately. As much as I love them, I think it’s time to have a break and review some different genres for a while.
Sleeping in the Morgue is a darkly comical novel about a teenage girl who takes drastic measures to ensure that she gets into college. It was written by Jennifer Tressen and first published in 2014. The novel is a short, stand-alone story and is suitable for older teens.
Paige Thorton is overjoyed when she gets accepted into Harvard but her excitement doesn’t last long. It turns out that her mother has frittered away her college fund and now she is $10,000 short of being able to afford her tuition fees. Although she applies to many scholarships, she realises that she has no chance of making the money unless she gets a job. Without, she is doomed to take over the family business and that means running the town’s morgue.
Although Paige’s mother is happy to pay her $500 for every corpse that she prepares, Paige knows that this will not be enough to make up the funds that she needs. The local care home has recently closed and people just don’t die fast enough. Yet, as she is approached by an old man who is desperate to be with his deceased wife, she hits upon an idea. Perhaps there is a way to drum up some more business and help her community as she does so.
As Paige investigates, she discovers that many people that she knows hide dark secrets. If they were to meet with tragic “accidents”, Paige knows that the town would be better off. However, it is not long before her police officer boyfriend, Brock, begins to see connections between the deaths. Will Paige be able to raise her tuition fees before the deadline or will Brock figure out that all clues point towards his girlfriend?
Sleeping in the Morgue is a massively entertaining read. Although the plot of the novel is incredibly dark and even a little gruesome in places, it is sprinkled with a black humour that really caused the text to flow. The novel is only 152 pages long and was paced very well for its length, leaving enough time for the reader to get to know the characters while still not scrimping on the action. Although only a couple of the deaths actually occur on page, I would still say that this novel may not be suitable for younger teens due to its dark subject matter.
The ethical dilemma of the story is kept in the reader’s mind at all times, as there are regular scenes set in Paige’s class where she is studying Crime and Punishment. Simply, it is a question of how far a person is willing to go to get what they want (and at what point have they gone too far). While murder is obviously never justifiable, it is easy to root for Paige during the early chapters of the story. She’s an intelligent girl who has worked hard to get what she wants, only fall at the last hurdle due to her unimaginably selfish parent. She’s the kind of character that you just want to see do well as she’s drawn a pretty rotten lot in life, yet the way she goes about it is rather extreme.
Although the plot of the story requires a little suspension of disbelief (just how many known criminals are walking free in her hometown?), Paige’s gradual descent from honour student to serial killer is surprisingly believable. Her first victim, the old man, leaves her in an ethical dilemma. Although she didn’t actively murder him, she was certainly an accomplice in his suicide. Yet his euthanasia puts one key thought in Paige’s mind – that death can be a charity. Her murder spree that follows grows increasingly passionate and hands-on, though still focuses her violence on people that are far worse than she is – rapists, paedophiles, child killers – and therefore she still feels like the heroine of the story. She’s a bit like Dexter Morgan – targeting the terrible criminals that the law has overlooked.
I also really liked the novel’s ending, although get the impression that it might not be for everyone. I won’t spoil anything here as its final sting was rather unexpected but I felt that it was a rather entertaining (if bitter) way to end the story. My only issue was that it was incredibly brief. The entire novel wrapped up after its climax in less than a page, which was a little bit of a disappointment. We didn’t even really get to see what impact the ending had on any of the surviving characters.
In terms of characterisation, the novel was incredibly strong. Although I struggled to remember which victim was which as some were only mentioned by name and never seen, Paige’s close friends were all very well developed and likable. Shelby was a bubbly and kind BFF, while Brock was both a caring boyfriend and dedicated police officer. Their dialogue was often cleverly written, peppered with turns of phrase that made it seem as though they might be aware of what Paige was doing, yet still leaving enough doubt to prevent Paige from asking them outright.
The only character that I struggled to understand was Paige’s mother. In the first half of the story, I found her to be too cartoonish. She was just a wicked stepmother, outright hostile and cruel to Paige without any reason beyond never wanting to be a mother. Yet, as business picked up, her personality suddenly flipped as she became a caring and approachable human being. She even stopped going out with her horrible friends, staying at home more and actively praising Paige’s work in the morgue. This transition was really jarring – I couldn’t really get my head around it or come up with a good explanation of why it even happened in the first place.
Well, I don’t really have much to say about this one. Sleeping in the Morgue is a solid read, fast flowing and wildly entertaining throughout. However, it does require some suspension of disbelief and the ending may turn off some readers, so that’s something to possibly bear in mind before you buy. However, in my personal opinion, this novel was a little gem and will certainly delight anyone with a dark sense of humour.
Sleeping in the Morgue can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk