Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Catching the Playhouse Killer

Jeff Crook’s debut thriller is a hard-boiled Memphis crime novel—with ghosts

To stop the shakes, Jackie Lyons is popping sinus pills and beer in a down-and-out Memphis bar when she gets a call from her ex-partner. A new corpse has turned up in a theater space, the scene staged to mimic an Elizabethan play. The Playhouse Killer has struck again, and although Jackie has been kicked off the force because she’s a heroin addict, she’s still on call as a forensic photographer. She’s not even at the scene before she’s seeing ghosts.

And so Jeff Crook’s paranormal mystery, The Sleeping and the Dead, begins its wild ride through the seedy backstreets and fading grandeur of Memphis. Jackie buys a new Leica from a handsome stranger, a man who may have murdered his wife. The camera has a tendency to take pictures without the aid of a human touch, photos which appear to capture the ghosts that haunt Jackie’s apartment. To pay for the camera, she heads to her friend and patron, Michi Mori, “a sugar-daddy who demanded no sugar,” as Jackie describes him. An epicene Japanese-American collector—of art, macabre death-scene photographs, and young gay men—Mori plays the role of daddy “to dozens of human derelicts” like Jackie.

The search for a camera and cash isn’t Jackie’s only quest. Her search for a cure to the haunted Leica’s strange quirks leads her to a camera geek who moonlights as a ghost-hunter: “Deiter always looked like he had just crawled out of a hayloft. You half expected to see straw in his hair and sheep shit down the front of his paisley pajamas.” More metaphorically, Jackie is searching for peace. Seeking that elusive prize, she heads home to Pocahontas, Arkansas, where she tries to lay to rest the ghosts of her brother’s brutal murder. The only problem: “The dead don’t lie. They stay with you.”

Jackie’s search for the Playhouse Killer may well lead her to the truth, but to get there she has to wade through more murder and mayhem. “There was no longer any peace for me,” Jackie muses after the violent culmination of the search for the killer. “No comfort, only pain. Which was how it had always been, only I was too blinded by need to see it.”

As Memphis Magazine points out, Crook “knows Memphis top to bottom in this, his first crime novel, and part of the pleasure for local readers of The Sleeping and the Dead will be the book’s insider knowledge of the city.” The national media is paying attention, too, however: “Crook presents a dark and creepy mystery with a brave but deeply flawed heroine,” notes Kirkus Reviews. “A promising series kickoff.”

Crook’s previous works have been fantasy novels in the Dragonlance series, including Conundrum and The Thieves Guild. He is a technical writer for the U.S. Postal Service and lives in North Mississippi.