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By Its Cover: Dreamless

Brekke DreamlessThe first thing I saw wasn’t the man running, looking behind him as if he was being chased. No, my eyes focused immediately on the familiar image below. It is the scene of a nightmare haunting a woman.

Iconic images or famous works of art on a book’s cover can set the mood for the story within. Here, the title Dreamless is paired with the oil painting known as The Nightmare. The 1781 artwork is the most famous piece created by Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (born Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1741 – 1825). Only a portion of the painting is visible here. We can clearly see the demonic incubus creature perched on the torso of a young woman lying prone on a sort of divan. Has she fainted? Is she asleep? What dreams or nightmares has she conjured up or is this a vision of someone else?

As a famous work of art, The Nightmare has been used in promotional materials for gothic and horror books and movies before. I first became aware of the painting (see full image below) as a result of its prominent use in the 1986 Ken Russell horror film, Gothic. The film was a very fictionalized account of the famous literary meeting in the Summer of 1816 that led to the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Mary and her poet husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited Lord Byron at his villa along the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. In attendance was John Polidori, Byron’s personal physician, who would write one of the first vampire stories, one that would later inspire Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897.)

John Henry Fuseli The Nightmare 1781

As for Dreamless, the story’s description begins “A promising young singer has been murdered, her body found in a forest clearing during a snowstorm. Her corpse has been elaborately, gruesomely staged—her larynx cut out and an antique music box placed carefully atop her body.”

How utterly apropos for the nightmare image!

As for the man…

“Chief Inspector Odd Singsaker of the Trondheim Police Department is called in to investigate.” When another young girl known for her singing goes missing, Singsaker must “find the connection between the victims” and stop a killer “who will stop at nothing to get his hands on [the] perfect lullaby.”

Presumably Singsaker is the man running, but why? My initial thought of the cover suggested a DaVinci Code-esque type thriller. Possibly that may still hold true, but the synopsis suggests a more typical, but perhaps darker Scandinavian crime novel.

Jørgen Brekke’s Dreamless was first published in Norway in 2012. The English translation/U.S. edition was released in February 2015.

The story opens with a fly, an ax, a piano, and blood…

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