Anna O by Matthew Blake

Anna O has been asleep for four years now. A known somnambulist, the experts think it was her body’s response to having committed a terrible double murder while sleepwalking. Now it’s time to wake her up, and the man to do it is Dr Benedict Prince, a forensic psychologist based at a sleep clinic in London’s Harley Street, he’s followed the case since she supposedly murdered two friends at the Farm in Oxfordshire, and now the Ministry of Justice want to put an end to not knowing… She will be secretly transferred from Rampton secure hospital to the clinic where only Virginia the clinic’s director, Dr Prince and Anna’s longterm nurse will know she’s there plus the senior police officer on the case, they can’t risk the media finding out. Things are never straight-forward though – the police officer is Ben’s ex-wife and mother of his son.

Also, Anna is the daughter of a baroness, so you can imagine the original scandals, and with such a high profile case, conspiracy theories abound – and Queen of the theorists is Lola but…

She is not one of the blogsphere’s conspiracy nuts or hardcore Anna O true-crime junkies. This might be her audience, but everyone knows she is a cut above. […]
And little do they know who is really among them. Not just another blogger, no. Not a sad act bedroom-dweller with a Sherlockian fantasy life.
She is quite different. She is special. The clue is in her handle.
@Suspect 8
Because Lola was there on the Farm that night.
And she knows who’s guilty.

Freudian references abound – you can’t escape the fact that Anna O was the pseudonym of one of Josef Breuer’s patients and Freud’s case study on her formed the basis of his work on ‘hysteria’.

Blake keeps the chapters short, most being just a few pages. While the lion’s share are told from Ben’s PoV, others come from clinic director Virginia, his ex Clara, Anna’s mother, and of course, Lola. But also we get extracts from Anna’s notebooks in the time leading up to the tragedy, and also clinical notes from her files.

Apparently, we spend 33 years of our lives asleep and this fact so intrigued Blake, formerly a speechwriter at Westminster, that it led to much research on sleep, sleep-crime and ‘resignation syndrome’ – the latter an observed but not clinically recognised bodily response to trauma first diagnosed in Sweden in migrant children from Russia shutting down while they were in limbo over gaining resident status. Extending it to a response to the crime doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Although it could have been a little tauter and a little less repetitive at times, I sped through this novel’s 440 pages. But every time I thought I’d worked things out, Blake would throw in a sideways twist and thus I was kept guessing, for Lola is not the only character with secrets of course.

Review copy – Thank you. Harper Collins hardback, Feb 2024. 440 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

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