n his latest thriller, Deep Sleep, Charles Wilson returns to one of his favorite themes: murder and mayhem triggered by a foreign invasion of the mind. The author of several best-selling scientific thrillers, Wilson has a knack for crafting riveting plot lines around kernels of scientific fact. In Deep Sleep, he focuses on treatment for sleep disorders, and ventures into a mysterious world of mind games played with hypnosis, Cajun voodoo and hallucinatory drugs. Wilson has chosen the South Louisiana bayou country as the setting for this absorbing tale of local culture with a 21st century face.

The action begins when a local deputy sheriff discovers the body of a young girl raped and beaten on the grounds of the South Louisiana Sleep Disorder Institute. The macabre scene reads like something by Edgar Allan Poe an antebellum mansion shrouded in mist rising from surrounding crocodile-infested mangrove swamps and partially obscured by hanging moss. When the victim is identified as a patient, Senior Deputy Mark French locks down the institute and takes a closer look at its fantasy fulfillment program, one that recreates wealthy patients' dreams and fantasies with enough realism that they are recalled as true experiences by those undergoing the treatment.

French soon establishes that another patient is missing and may have stolen a car. Other suspects include a grotesquely deformed boy and his hardscrabble parents eking out a primitive living on the edge of the swamp, the institute's sinister director and several members of her staff with violent criminal records. While tracking the missing patient through the steamy swamp, the deputies come across two more sadistically murdered victims whose deaths suggest that a second psychopath may be on the loose. The pace accelerates as French closes in on at least one of the killers. The stormy night scene of the hunters racing through a lightning-laced swamp with flashlights reinforced by a helicopter's searchlight equals Hollywood's best. Wilson is even able to weave a thin but appealing romantic thread into the violent tapestry that makes Deep Sleep a memorable reading experience.

John Messer writes from Ludington, Michigan.

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