Looking for a weird time?
You need only look as far as the paperback book aisle of your favorite supermarket where, with any luck, you’ll be able to secure a copy of “Sleepeasy” by T.M. Wright (2001, Leisure Books, Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc., New York, N.Y., $5.99, 310 pages).
“Sleepeasy” puts the capital ‘W’ in weird and is an obvious candidate for Best Dead Private Eye in Another Dimension Supermarket Paperback of 2001.
Oh, and did I tell you, it’s really weird?
“Sleepeasy” tells the story of Harry Briggs, a fairly laid back philosophy professor who enjoys old mystery movies and watching his wife skinny-dipping in their swimming pool until he, er, dies.
The next thing you know, Harry’s been reincarnated as a hardboiled private eye driving aimlessly through the countryside searching for a missing woman who looks suspiciously like his spouse.
Harry’s got a trench coat, a fedora, a snub-nosed .38, a big ol’ Buick and a mission – what more could a dead philosophy professor turned private detective want?
Our self-created gumshoe doesn’t realize he’s dead, but he does have the feeling that he’s not in Kansas anymore. The landscape is an endless expanse of tall grass and nodding sunflowers, the people he encounters don’t make a helluva lot of sense and Harry isn’t exactly sure where he’s been or where he’s going.
And then he pulls into the placid little community of Silver Lake where everybody’s kind of vaguely pleasant and the cafe’s never open when you’re hungry.
While exploring the town, Harry meets the mysterious Amelia, who seems to spend most of her time sitting on a park bench staring at the lake shore and speaking in riddles.
There’s a reason for the mystery, of course – Amelia’s dead and she’s really Harry’s wife, Barbara, who’s equally dead and who created Silver Lake and all its inhabitants after casting off her mortal coil and stepping onto a kind of alternative astral plane.
(You’re still with me, right? Take your time…)
So Harry’s dead and he gets to spend eternity impersonating a 1940s private eye while his dead wife, Barbara, reigns over the perfect little community of Silver Lake.
Well that sounds just peachy for all concerned, but there’s trouble brewing in Paradise.
For one thing, Harry’s dead subconscious has been creating a few things of its own.
What does every film noir private eye need? An antagonist, of course. And who was the greatest celluloid villain of them all? Sydney Greenstreet.
Welcome to Silver Lake, Sydney…
Unlike the late actor, this Sydney Greenstreet is really evil. He’s into money, power and murder and his hobby’s homicide.
Worse, he doesn’t simply kill the artificial inhabitants of Silver Lake. No, Sydney somehow makes his way back to the land of the living where he’s bumping off Wall Street executives, haberdashers and attorneys with giddy abandon.
Will Harry be able to cross back over and put a stop to Sydney’s predations? Will Barbara be able to maintain her pristine lakeside retreat? And what about the voluptuous, scantily clad, dark-haired female French partisans?
If you’re not dead, just ease on down to your favorite supermarket and get all the answers for $5.99.
Originally published May 13, 2001