Written by Jude O'Reilly

I’m an insomniac hence I’m pretty much fascinated with sleep. Those features which advise you to have a hot lavender scented bath and practise mindfulness, to avoid alcohol three hours before you go to bed, and not to stress if your sleep breaks naturally into two parts – I read every word. Often at three in the morning. And when dawn comes around and I drag myself out of bed to start the day all over, I have to ignore the deep crevices under my eyes that look like they’ve been carved by stonemasons. Instead, I reach for the coffee pot, and try not to startle the poodle when I yawn so wide my jaw cracks like a bullwhip.

Perhaps then that’s why I chose Sleep When You’re Dead as the title of my latest action thriller. I find comfort in it. I might not be able to sleep now but Hey! I can sleep when I’m dead.

This is my fifth book and the third outing for my action hero Michael North. When you write action thrillers, it’s difficult to get away from the shadow cast by the phenomenon that is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. But you have to try. My hero is British. Twenty-seven. Effective, ruthless and a tad reckless, to his MI5 handlers he is also disposable. The reason they think that way is because of the bullet he still carries around in his brain courtesy of a combat mission when he served in the Army. In the first book (Killing State) his neural pathways had rewired themselves, and North felt he had a heightened sense of intuition. That’s less obvious now. What is obvious however is that the bullet drives him to make the most out of every moment he has in this life, because he doesn’t know how long he’s got. He could die if someone hits him. He could die if he sneezes wrong. But he has made his peace with that. He’s determined to do his duty and serve his country and take down the bad guys – that’s what gives his life meaning. However long that life turns out to be.

In Sleep When You’re Dead, North is sent undercover into a doomsday cult on a remote Scottish island. An island that turns out to be home to shady American defence contractors who have set up a spaceport up there. And in this book, it turns out that it’s not just his life at risk. Because when North and his sidekick – a teenage cyber hacker geek called Fang – discover a link between the cult and the American contractors. It’s Fang’s life at stake every bit as much as North’s.

Going undercover is a stressful experience. I did plenty of undercover reporting myself for The Sunday Times. Never in a doomsday cult, thank goodness, generally in institutions. But even so, you go in wired up and with a different ‘legend’ to explain who you are and why you’re there. Microphones tucked into cleavages, wires down sleeves, recorders in pockets, cameras in handbags. It’s all in a good cause, but that doesn’t make the experience less stressful. In North’s case, he's playing at being an entitled drifter and the members of the cult are suspicious of him from the off. Meanwhile in London, Fang is picking apart exactly what is going on in the spaceport and the mystery of a satellite engineer murdered in the Highlands the year before. 

Fang is a very popular character with readers. She’s 15 and a genius and I find some of my inspiration for her in my own kids. Two of them are still teenagers and I love the speed kids think at, their irreverence and wit. Fang will say the unsayable without hesitation. For her, North is a ‘moron person’, way too quick to do violence rather than think his way out of a problem, and she believes it’s up to her to keep him out of trouble. Of course, that means she’s going to find trouble of her own all too quickly.

Having been a journalist, I still track politics and current affairs very closely. I also do a great deal of research before I start to plot out my books. My thrillers may have killer octopuses, sentient artificial intelligence, and extraordinary power-crazed villains, but I want the tech and their political context to be entirely credible. I want the reader to race through the book, turning those pages because they can’t put it down, and when they close it, I want them to wonder how much truth there is in my fiction. And to decide probably too much for them to rest easy in their beds.  But that’s okay – after all, you can always sleep when you’re dead.

Sleep When You’re Dead is published by Head of Zeus, October 13th.  


Judith O'Reilly

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