If you ever watched videos of Mulholland Drive on YouTube in random order you may get a feeling of how Cafe Insomniac actually reads. It´s one lucid dream, a walk down the memory lane where reality/unreality is questioned constantly and what is real could be just a dream. When one is a sound sleeper that is.
On the surface it is a straight forward mystery-thriller, a crime noir romance maybe ?, with some surrealism thrown in for good measure with a dark, unsettling atmosphere hanging around in the air.
A murder taking place just some side streets away from where Cafe Insomniac is located sets a whole set of rather nervous action in motion.
The novel is (almost) movielike, and indeed, has this Lynchesque feeling, full with red herrings, mixed identities (<--- this could be another red herring, so be cautious what you believe) and many hints and clues throughout the book. Easily overlooked since those hints are so cleverly integrated into the storyline and plot itself. It is fun to go back to see where the narrative took a turn, where those clues are mixed up with the "reality" of the here and now of the book itself.
Justin, in this first person narrative, is hardly the reliable narrator per definition, since insomnia and self-diagnosis about hallucinations leads to some rather odd ideas about what is happening, or what is supposed to be happening. The whole scenery is visceral, and partly "magical realistic", even the surrealistic imaginery is used sparingly but nevertheless vital to the narration.
The insomnia undoubtly affects Justin´s daily life in several ways. As an ex-teacher is not really cut out to be a small business owner, a dreamer who gives away his coffee for free to the homeless, or lets his customers for hours stay quietly in his cafe. He is charming, but also naive. His father, as an investor and partner into the cafe, is however a different chapter altogether. The family dynamics is strong, and so are the secrets which are one by one revealed.
A cast of rather absurd characters (real life vampires!), absurd in the sense that those are hardly the people one meets normally, but are originial in their whole appearance and yes, characteristics, makes the book a joy. Each of those "play" their different roles accordingly.
Spinner, the homeless ex-politician, is the most remarkable of those, and a pleasure to read about him. I also enjoyed "his" band, The Bedless, alot. It is just good clean fun to "watch" their perfomances of well-known songs like All Along The Watchtower or Where The Wild Roses Grow.
However the music and pop references are cool and show some great taste in music but are overused, and to much off a show-off to be really enjoyable after a while.
The only real problem I have with this book is with one chapter where a character is totally overblown and hardly believeable to be the 18yo old girl she is supposed to be. I can see how the author, Mark Capell, has done alot of research into insomnia and here this one character is simply used as a counterpart to set some misunderstandings about insomnia and sleep deprivation straight. It´s a back and fourth of information, but the way the chapter is used is too obvious to be a mouthpiece for the author himself.
The prose is easy on the eye, it reads fluently while being down-to-earth. It is good old fashioned storytelling and done with care even everything seems to be - deliberately - off-balance, unsettling even.
(Legal disclaimer: I received a free copy of Cafe Insomniac via a BookLikes giveaway from the author, Mark Capell. Thank you!)