“I’ve heard of murder cases where you don’t know the killer, but this is the first one where you don’t even know the victim.”
The village of Stockbridge, Connecticut, is not exactly a hotbed of crime. Still, it is rare for police chief Fred Fellows to be confronted with an offense that is at once so petty and so baffling as the break-in at the realty office. What possible motive could someone have for stealing a file of signed leases?
Police soon discover that one of the missing leases belongs to a property now abandoned by its renter. He has left something behind, however—the dismembered corpse of a murdered woman. Now this small-town police force must find the phantom killer of an unknown victim.
Sleep Long, My Love is one of a series of police procedurals featuring Fred Fellows and his partner Sid Wilks, sequels in all but name to Hillary Waugh’s groundbreaking novel Last Seen Wearing. Like that earlier book, Sleep Long, My Love is a slightly gritty look at old-school police work, with a frankness and a level of forensic detail that is surprising for the era. What makes this case particularly fascinating is the complete lack of information Fellows and Wilks begin with, and the massive efforts required to identify an unknown victim and killer in a predigital, pre-DNA era. Through it all, the narrative remains engaging—the officers may be bored or frustrated, but the reader never is.
The dismembered, partially burned corpse offers few clues to police. As Wilks points out, “You take a girl’s head off and there isn’t much you can tell about her.” All they know is that a dark-haired man calling himself John Campbell rented the house on a three month lease. The leasing agent didn’t ask many questions; such an isolated property is difficult to rent out even in summer, let alone in the dead of winter. Neighbors caught only a few glimpses of “Mrs. Campbell,” a thirtyish blonde.
“She was rather pretty, but kind of hard. Not tough looking, but like a girl who knew her way around.”
“Like it wasn’t the first time she’d been with a man?” suggested the chief.
“Like it wasn’t even the second.”
The man known as John Campbell seems to have vanished without a trace. Putting a name to both victim and killer forces Fellows and Wilks to think outside the box, though Wilks is openly skeptical of his boss’s tendency toward elaborate theories. Why circulate the suspect’s description among hardware companies when they know he was lying about where he worked? Because, Fellows believes, there is a grain of truth in every lie, something that causes that particular lie to rise to the surface of a suspect’s brain. Their job is to find that little bit of truth and follow where it leads.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect murder, Sid. There’s always a track that leads from the killed back to the killer and no matter how well that killer covers that track, he’s going to leave new tracks—tracks to the cover. And if he covers those, there’ll be tracks in that cover and so on. There’s always a flaw and the so-called ‘perfect crime’ means nothing more than that the police failed to find that flaw.” He gestured at the mass of papers on his desk, the reports and information on the case. “There’s a flaw in that mess somewhere. I don’t know what or where, but there’s got to be.”
In this case, the journey will be a long and painstaking one as each hard-earned lead after another turns out to be another red herring. The limitations of a small-town police department require both creativity and elbow grease to overcome. Fellows and Wilks learn that a figure in the case may have the initials J. S., so they pull out the phone book and call everyone in town with those initials. When their budget won’t stretch to hiring a professional sketch artist for fifty dollars, they recruit a high-school art student to sketch the suspect for free. They need to watch every word they say, for even in the squadroom, the local reporter is hanging around listening for a scoop that could blow up their whole case. There is no glamour in police work as portrayed here, only tedium and anxiety.
Ultimately, it will be a combination of luck, hard work, and Fellows’ theories that lead them to a suspect. This isn’t where the investigation ends, however. A large chunk of the book is devoted to their interrogation of this suspect, which is masterfully developed. Throughout the investigation, Wilks has been itching to get his hands on a suspect, insisting that after a few rounds of questioning, he can get a confession out of anyone. Fellows and Wilks go into the interrogation room with little real evidence, just a hunch, really. Bit by bit, they eviscerate the suspect’s excuses and evasions with surgical precision. It is incredibly cathartic to watch this unfold, even if there are disturbing real-world implications to cheering on police officers as they try to manipulate a confession out of a suspect based entirely on their gut instincts rather than evidence.
Sleep Long, My Love is fascinating in its detailed portrayal of the patience and sheer hard work needed to solve a crime. The investigation is detailed and often frustrating, but always compelling. And the final interrogation sequence is a tour-de-force of suspense. Fellows and Wilks lay out a series of deductions worthy of Ellery Queen, knowing that if they cannot convince the suspect to confess, they have just destroyed their entire case. Though it may not be the most ethical way of solving a crime, it is impossible to look away.
Needless to say I enjoyed every minute of the investigation and the interaction.
But for the most part this is an exciting and low-key investigation, simultaneously banal in its every day detail but riveting in its storytelling – a very neat trick.
Sleep Long, My Love is out of print with used copies available. Jigsaw, the excellent 1962 film version directed by Val Guest, transplants the action to the English seaside town of Brighton while remaining faithful to the original novel.
3 thoughts on “Sleep Long, My Love (1959) by Hillary Waugh”
I am so glad you enjoyed it so much. Now I really must read the second in the series. Thanks for linking up my post.
I have not read this volume but I did enjoy “The Late Mrs D” and “The Con Game” in the Fred C Fellows series very much. Waugh writes about believable crimes with detailed and believable criminal investigations and well rounded characters. While I really like the ingenuity of a writer like Car or Christie, the small town police force Waugh created ranks with those of Archer Mayor or K C Constantine.
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Have not read this though after viewing Jigsaw (excellent!) the movie adaptation on Kino Lorber website last autumn I immediately bought a copy. Then when looking for another book and reorganizing boxes I discovered I already had a copy with all my Hilary Waugh paperbacks. And it was the same edition that I bought after viewing the movie! I’m a mess these days. Glad you enjoyed the book. And I assume you also saw the movie.