No Sleep Till Wonderland
Mark Genevich is a PI with a past. A past chronicled in a previous book, which I have not read. Entering his world for the first time, I wondered- would it be a smooth transition? Or would I be left disoriented and confused, like our protagonist after a hypnagogic episode? Despite a nice recap of past exploits for the newcomers, allusions to Mark's personal history are vague. Almost as if an important piece of information were missing. Fortunately, as the mystery unfurls- the mystery of who Mark is, not just the machinations of the plot- all pertinent questions are answered.
Taking place in the same South Boston milieu as its predecessor, Wonderland is a complex story that starts off with deceptive simplicity. Since we last saw Mark, for those who've read The Little Sleep, life has taken a turn for the shitty. His narcolepsy has intensified, his detective agency is barely scraping by, and he has been forced into group therapy by his overbearing mother-slash-landlord.
It is there that he meets Gus. Desperate for friendship, Mark accompanies him on a protracted bender that culminates in a suspicious job offer. This happens after the seemingly unrelated surveillance gig, but chronologically the whole thing starts way before that, in a van with a friend on a dark stretch of road. The irony is, this is also where the whole thing ends.
Reading Wonderland is almost like watching a movie, and as the story progressed I found myself thinking in cinematic terms. Genevich is a character with definite big screen potential. When he's not nodding off, he's jumping off the page with a three dimensional vengeance. His rapid-fire speech conjures the ghosts of noir past, updated with Simpsons references and peppered with expletives. I can already see Hollywood's A-List lining up for the chance to portray such a meaty character, complete with one of those bad Boston accents that are so popular these days.
Unfortunately, not everything that works on the page would work on screen. The loose narrative of the midsection would irritate followers of the Robert McKee school, as would the explanatory nature of the denouement. The kind where two people in a room discuss the intricacies of the plot for the benefit of the audience. But thanks to the strength of the writing, Tremblay gets away with this on the page. Quick, short sentences make up quick, short chapters that keep the momentum chugging along, even when the plot slacks.
The cast of characters is small, but Tremblay manages to squeeze a decent amount of whodunit out of them. With so few herrings to color red, the more important question becomes not whodunit, but whydunit? The French would say cherchez la femme, but this being a modern take on the genre, women are not necessarily the root of all evil here.
That's not to say they can be trusted. In fact, you'd be well advised to take a page from Fox Mulder's book and trust no one. Especially Mark. Due to his condition, he is the very definition of an unreliable narrator. He wouldn't know the truth if it kicked him in the crotch.
Yet somehow, in the face of insurmountable handicap, he manages to crack the case. Everyone comes clean, spilling his or her guts like fresh-caught fish. And you'll be right alongside them on the chopping block, gasping for breath, because by that point you're practically an accomplice.