What better way to start off the summer than with a few cold chills? Don’t Close Your Eyes is one of those wonderful escape stories that has readers staying up until the wee hours to finish. It is suspenseful, humorous at times, and is still slightly romantic. The down home environment Green creates is so completely comfortable, that the emergence of a serial killer seems so out of place as to be almost obscene.
A woman moves to a small southern town to hide from one of her former students, a graduate student who has developed an obsession for her. To protect herself from the student turned stalker, Helen Tyler, buys a gun and leaves her comfortable home in one state to live in a rundown house the sheriff of Eureka inherited from his grandmother. In a shabbily genteel neighborhood Helen learns there is more to fear than a would-be suitor. Lonely women living by themselves have been mysteriously dying with a white bible left on the foot of each bed the only clue connecting the victims to each other.
Matt Clevenger is the interim sheriff of Coosetta County. He never set out to be a sheriff, but an injury ended his athletic career and a tornado killed his wife and sons leaving him miserable and with nowhere to turn for comfort. He tried to forget his unhappiness with alcohol, but when he was elevated to sheriff, he gave up drinking and determined to do his best until the next election.
In her usual on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense style coupled with her trade mark Southern humor, Green leads her readers from crime scenes, to the cemetery, through a forensic lab, to the library, to a quiet street peopled by neighbors who care about an elderly woman who imagines murderers, lost cats, and a bygone life as a movie star–with a generous amount of time spent in a crowded sheriff’s office.
Helen lives in one of those houses on the quiet street, across from the senile old woman and next door to a young Vietnamese family with two children who are passionate about finding a missing kitty and Oreos. Helen, a teacher in her pre-stalker life, befriends the children and keeps them supplied with cookies. Her first generous overture to the children brings an uncomfortable situation she isn’t certain how to handle.
The town of Eureka and the elderly ladies all appeared in Green’s previous books as did the granddaughter of one such lady who befriends Helen. Helen reaches a semi-comfortable friendship with another woman, Crystal, Sheriff Matt Clevenger’s unorthodox secretary and Janice, a librarian and childhood playmate of Matt’s who describes him as the local bully.
The relationship between Matt and Helen begins slowly with each being wary of involvement, then Helen is hired to do research for the sheriff and their friendship grows. Though the relationship builds slowly and comfortably, it never becomes the passionate focus of the book. That honor is reserved for a mystery with few clues.
Losing his wife and child is the hardest thing Matt has ever faced. The demands of a murder investigation and being sheriff are the only things that keep him functioning. The friendship that develops between him and Helen is largely based to begin with on the needs of two lonely people.
Loneliness, unrequited love, unmet needs, and the hurt of not being wanted all play into this story and are handled very skillfully by the author. The difference a little kindness, the sharing of casual friendship, and faith can make is shown to be of tremendous importance.
Green’s books are not preachy and they don’t strongly promote some gospel principle, but they do show how members of the Church who live in an area where there are not a large number of members can interact with their neighbors and learn a great deal about kindness and generosity from them. She demonstrates that neighborly concern and support is endemic to good people everywhere and is a classic element of good manners.
Don’t Close Your Eyes ends just a mite too neatly, but it’s such an ironic twist that the reader can’t help feeling just a tad smug about it and perhaps a little chagrined to feel everyone got what they deserved.