First published back in July of 2013, British author and clinical psychologist, Frank Tallis (aka F.R. Tallis)’s novel ‘The Sleep Room’ formed his second horror novel to be published (along with having a further six psychology / crime novels under his belt).

DLS Synopsis:
When the opportunity to work alongside Dr Hugh Maitland, possibly the most influential psychiatrist of their generation, came up, Dr James Richardson jumped at the chance.  And with his strong academic backing and growing experience in the field of psychological medicine, Richardson was in with a good chance at securing the position.

And the interview couldn’t have gone better.  Richardson was offered the position then and there – of which he immediately accepted.  All that was left to do was relocate to the recently set-up psychiatric hospital, Wyldehope Hall, on Dunwich Heath in the remote depths of rural Suffolk.  A hospital that looked after a total of twenty-four patients suffering from varying degrees of mental illness.

Due to Wyldehope’s particularly isolated positioning, Richardson would be required to take up fulltime residence within the hospital.  A somewhat isolated existence compared with his previous life in London, and one which had eventually gotten to Richardson’s predecessor, Dr Benjamin Palmer, until he resigned from his post at Wyldehope Hall.

But the chance to work with the charismatic and world-renowned Dr Maitland was too good of an opportunity to miss out on.  Especially considering the ground-breaking work and research that was being performed in the hospital.  As Richardson is shown early on, located in its basement, Wyldehope has a unique care room for its most psychologically disturbed patients.  Here, in a shadowy room dubbed ‘The Sleep Room’, Maitland had devised a way to maintain a constant state of narcosis for at least twenty-one hours of the day for six of his female patients.  ECT would be administered to them on a weekly basis, with records taken to record the results of such prolonged sleep.

However, something doesn’t feel right about the set-up.  The trainee nurse, Mary Williams, who spends much of her time looking after the sleeping patients, appears constantly on edge in the gloomy surroundings.  And there is something noticeably wrong with the general atmosphere in Wyldehope.  Something just isn’t quite right.  And with things going missing, and other patients complaining of unexplainable happenings in the old building, Richardson feels that there is something more to it all.  But what?  And if it’s something beyond the explainable reach of science, he could well be risking his entire career if he were to announce it.

But as time goes by, the situation only worsens.  The patients in the Sleep Room seem to be dreaming at the exact same time.  And an unexplainable presence in Richardson’s room has him doubting his scientific background.  Richardson knows he must act, or risk jeopardising the lives of those in his care.  The question is how?...

DLS Review:
Set around the mid 1950’s Tallis’ supernatural psychology-heavy horror story is certainly one that basks in the period it sets itself within.  Indeed other than the strong James Herbert feel to much of the tale, the story is also very much akin to a M.R. James, Charles Dickens or E.F. Benson type of ‘ghost story’.

Author Frank Tallis clearly plays to his strengths in the choice of subject matter that the novel is completely immersed within.  Indeed, for those that aren’t all that familiar with the practices and procedures being explored during this era, these particular details alone are likely to be of quite some interest.  And for another thing, they make for a darn creepy atmosphere for a psychological-cum-supernatural horror story.

Tallis’ writing style is very fluid and at times really quite compelling.  Tallis clearly has a skill for storytelling.  However, ‘The Sleep Room’ does suffer from some serious over-padding, especially around the midway section which sags quite noticeably.  Furthermore, although the original premise for the novel and much of the idea behind the plot is brimming with unnerving potential, the tale never really manages to break the surface into ‘chilling’ territory.  And that’s really where the novel falls short the most.  It fails to realise the full potential of the supernatural horror it has within its grasp and instead ends up weaving an interesting but ultimately tame ghostly story.

That said, the characterisation throughout the novel is excellent.   Our principal protagonist, Dr James Richardson, is a believable and likeable academic who is incredibly easy to sympathise with from very early on.  Furthermore, Richardson’s developing relationship with one of the nurses, Sister Jane Turner, makes for a well-placed love interest.  Indeed, the relationship between the two becomes quite a dominant sub story; adding a different side to the character of Richardson whilst murkying the waters of Richardson’s emotional ties with Wyldehope, his work, his career, his duty to his patients and the strange goings on there.

The constant smoking of cigarettes, the slightly reserved manner in which the characters interact and the out-of-date psychological experimentation, make ‘The Sleep Room’ what it is.  There’s very much a feeling of being pulled into the tale and sucked into the unfolding mystery of it all.  And that’s by far and away the novel’s strongest element.  Alongside this Tallis has inserted in a handful of moderately interesting secondary characters, such as the intriguing patient, Michael Chapman whose hallucinations and delusions of persecution make for a colourful exposure to the general mental illness of the patients at Wyldehope.

All in all ‘The Sleep Room’ a reasonably engaging and mildly interesting read, with plenty of atmosphere and well-defined characters.  Sadly, it lacks the punch of a chilling ghost story to really get the reader clawing through the pages for the next blood-chilling burst of adrenaline.  And the novel ends on a twist-ending that feels far too ‘stitched-on’, as if it were merely a last minute afterthought, to really leave much of an impression on the reader.

The novel runs for a total of 376 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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