Don’t Wake Up

by Liz Lawler
Harper Books, February 2019, $26.99

Unless you enjoy medical examinations of your most intimate regions, you’ll get the creepy-crawlies when you read about some of the things Dr. Alex Taylor is subjected to in the psychological thriller Don’t Wake Up. Still, one can’t help but admire her composure and analytical deductions after awakening from a mysterious slumber to find herself strapped to an operating table. “Think, she instructed herself,” despite being naked with her legs in stirrups. There’s an IV drip hooked up, and someone—a masked surgeon?—is looking down at her, offering discourse on her uterus and speculums and the like. Like we said, it’s creepy.

Or was the whole scenario something that was concocted by a mentally unstable mind?

That’s the eventual determination of Alex’s colleagues, as well as her veterinarian-surgeon boyfriend. The police who are called in to investigate Alex’s claims of having been abducted and raped have a hard time believing her—because there is no physical evidence. Then a nurse who’d gone missing is brought into emergency. As one of the responding doctors, it’s Alex who listens to the woman’s last desperate words. Later, Alex finds the body of a dead woman in her parking garage. Deputy Inspector Greg Turner (stoic and solid) and Det. Constable Laura Best (a sourpuss), now have other crimes to solve—with Alex as a possible suspect.

Set in Bath, the city in England famous for its Georgian buildings, Roman-built baths, and as onetime home to Jane Austen, Don’t Wake Up is the debut novel of Liz Lawler. The former nurse-turned-author does a nice job of interweaving a colorful lineup of possible suspects with a multilayered story line that includes clues as disparate as a missing key fob and a modern-day painting of Potiphar’s wife (an Egyptian seductress who appears in the Book of Genesis). There’s also a romantic twist that took this reader by surprise.

This being a UK crime story, there are some indigenous references that could elude some readers. I had to look up Dr. Harold Shipman, a medical practitioner-turned-prolific serial killer. And, as a sign of the world’s too-dramatic times, I initially blanked at mention of the 7/7 bombings, the July 7, 2005, terrorist suicide attacks that left 52 dead in London.

Some readers will be further put off by the gruesome nature of several sequences. This book is not for the squeamish. Then again, it’s hard not to empathize with Alex, and her page-turning, compounding dilemmas. Fans of female-centric stories with gritty thrills won’t be disappointed.

As for the book’s author, she’s put her medical knowledge to use in such a way that one really wouldn’t recommend her for her bedside manner. (I sure wouldn’t want her for a nurse!) But I prescribe taking a look at her future writings.

Pat H. Broeske
Teri Duerr
February 2019
Harper Books