Everybody’s a suspect in ‘The Sleep Police’

If you like your murder mystery whodunits so convoluted that the hero even suspects himself, stop by your favorite supermarket paperback aisle and pick up “The Sleep Police” by Jay Bonansinga.

“The Sleep Police” (2001 New American Library, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, N.Y., $6.99, 288 pages) has everything you’re looking for in a deranged serial killer crime novel, plus a lot of stuff you wouldn’t even think to look for.

This is the story of Chicago Police Department violent crimes division detective Frank Janus, a methodical, soft-spoken young investigator who’s haunted by the unsolved, decade-old murder of a young woman.

Janus has a lot going for him. He’s smart, handsome and a sharp dresser. He has a gigantic, pear-shaped partner named Sully Deets who isn’t quite as smart or handsome, but makes up for it by wearing cheap sport coats and stuffing menthol cigarette filters in his nostrils.

(It should be noted that Deets engages in the latter activity only when dealing with dead folks.)

Admittedly, Janus also has some baggage. He doesn’t always remember where he’s been or what he’s done while he’s been wherever he was. He suffers from raging headaches, severe insomnia, sleep-walking, night terrors, fainting spells and blackouts.

And he’s divorced.

And his mom’s in a mental institution.

And his partner calls him “Bambi.”

And his brother’s nickname is “Boomer.”

Fortunately, Janus has the department psychiatrist, Dr. Henry Pope, to get him over the rough spots.

An ex-cop himself, Dr. Pope is a stooped, bearded old fellow who’s always ready to lend an ear – and a variety of exotic pharmaceuticals – to the troubled young detective. Pope’s weird, but he’s worn a badge and he knows the mean streets.

To make matters worse, it appears that a ritualistic serial killer may be at work in the Windy City – the same murderer who eluded Janus 10 years earlier and whose handiwork still haunts the sleepless detective.

Janus and his faithful partner have plenty of clues as the bodies begin piling up. Unfortunately, the more clues they find, the more the evidence seems to point to detective Frank Janus as the most likely suspect.

After a videotaped “confession” mysteriously turns up on Deets’ desk and Janus’ brother is brutally murdered, the troubled detective does the only thing a good cop can do under such circumstances – he arrests himself at gunpoint while a SWAT team waits outside.

But that’s only the beginning, amigos.

Although Janus initially believes that he – or a heretofore undetected alternate personality – may be responsible for the bizarre series of killings, there are some things about the slayings that just don’t add up.

So, while being transported in shackles to a mental health facility for a psychiatric evaluation, Janus decides to do a little more investigating. Exercising his discretion as arresting officer in the case, he decides to release himself to his own custody and chase down a few more clues.

Several other officers forcibly disagree with his unilateral decision to hit the streets, but Janus has veto power in the form of an Ithaca shotgun.

What follows makes the eruption of Mount St. Helens look like a picnic in Poughkeepsie.

Is Detective Frank Janus a serial killer? Is “The Other Frank” a serial killer? Or is the murderer really his mother, his ex-wife, his partner, his psychiatrist or the meter maid behind the abandoned pickup truck?

The truth is out there – about two aisles over from the paper towels and lawn bags…

Originally published September 6, 2001

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