The Sleep Room (4 July 2013) by F.R. Tallis
A naive young doctor, James Richards, is offered an intriguing position as the head of a mental hospital in the Suffolk countryside. With no ties in London, and eager to impress his charismatic psychiatrist boss, he wastes no time in setting off for the isolated location of his new job. His duties include overseeing the 'sleep room', the site of a controversial and unusual form of therapy, in which six schizophrenic patients - all young women - are kept in a state of permanent sleep for months on end. At first, James is happy to be at Wyldehope Hall, particularly when he begins to develop a relationship with a beautiful nurse named Jane Turner. However, when inexplicable events begin to occur - mysterious sounds, shadowy figures, missing objects appearing where they shouldn't be, and a young trainee being so terrified of overseeing the sleep room that she takes to constantly clutching a prayer book - he is forced to conclude that there is something unnatural about the place. But do these incidents have a supernatural explanation, or is the truth something even more sinister?
I found The Sleep Room on NetGalley, where it was listed ahead of its US release on October the 1st. It wasn't until later that I discovered the book had already been published in the UK, back in July, and had passed me by - probably because the UK cover is absolutely bloody awful and I'd never have picked it up if I'd seen that first. This is an unusual case of the US cover being a much better design, and a much better fit for the book, than the UK version.
For the majority of this book, I found myself enjoying the story but thought there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about it, nothing I hadn't encountered before in other, similar historical ghost stories. For example, though I liked the characters of both James and Jane, I didn't really care about the details of their romance and spent a while wondering what this was supposed to be adding to the story. Then, however, it quite suddenly threw three surprises at me which changed my perception of it significantly. Firstly, there is a brilliantly executed, seriously effective scene which takes place during a power cut. It makes sense, which is quite a difficult thing to achieve when the characters involved are experiencing such confusion, but leaves the reader with a genuine sense of unease; after reading it, I found myself jumping at shadows more frequently than I'd like. (The fact that it was never properly explained just added to the creepiness!) Secondly, there is a moment of true, vivid horror which properly shocked me. And thirdly, the ending, which comes out of nowhere and is a complete, yet entirely plausible, surprise. I don't want to say anything about what happens, because to do so would spoil everything for any prospective readers... But I loved it.
Overall, this was a truly haunting ghost story topped off with a twist that exceeded my expectations, and I'm surprised, given my love of the genre, that I haven't heard of the author before. The earlier part of the book is fairly slow-moving, but stick with it and you will be rewarded.
I will be keeping an eye out for other books by Tallis, even if the covers are terrible.
I received an advance review copy of The Sleep Room from the publisher through NetGalley.
Rating: 8/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Booklikes | Bloglovin' | Buy on Amazon: Kindle & Paperback