Sandman by Tammy BirdSandman by Tammy Bird is a psychological thriller about a serial killer who has been living and killing in a small community on Hatteras Island, off the coast of North Carolina.

Katia Billings, an EMT, is one of the first responders on the scene in Buxton Beach after a catastrophic hurricane rips through the small island community. As she searches for survivors, she stumbles on the unthinkable. The storm has uncovered the shallow grave of one of the town’s well-known citizens. It is clear that the body is the victim of foul play.

K-9 search experts are brought in, and it is soon discovered that a serial killer has been using the sand dunes as a burial ground for his victims for several decades. The small community is shocked to learn that this evil has been going on, unnoticed right below their feet.

Katia enlists help from her on-and-off lover, Zahra to find this killer dubbed Sandman. They are determined to find him and keep him from killing again.

Their search for answers uncovers town secrets that threaten everyone living in Buxton Beach. Will Katia and Zahra survive the physical, emotional, and psychological attacks posed by this local killer or will they become the next victims of Sandman?

The Characters

It’s worth noting that the characters in Sandman are very diverse. The two mains are women of color, and one of the primary secondary characters is neuro-atypical. For the main characters, their ethnicity is reflected in their world views and how they see themselves in their small town.

Katia is not the easiest character to like when the book opens. Her mother died in a car accident when Katia was young, and she carries a lot of anger as a result. Her rage fueled the breakup with her longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth, who fled Buxton Beach as a result. Katia was prone to nasty verbal outbursts that bordered on verbal abuse. She also let her anger drive a wedge between her and Elizabeth’s mother, Gina, who was like a second mother to Katia. The terrible events that open the book completely shake up Katia’s world. She is forced to take time off from her job, and this is when she begins to reflect on her behavior and how it has left her in a somewhat solitary existence. Seeing the love and devotion she feels toward her younger brother, Marco, helped soften her in my eyes. Marco has autism, and Katia is his main caregiver. The outside world may see her as tough and aloof, but at home, she is caring and protective when it comes to her brother and her father. While Katia is the central character of the book, she is so overwhelmed by the murders, she has to let others step in and take care of her. With their help, she is able to become more proactive. As the violence begins to clamber closer to her home and loved ones, she moves into action. The murders that have rocked her community have left her vulnerable enough to let Zahra into her life as more than just a casual sex partner. She looks to Zahra for support and strength. Katia’s character arc is subtle yet profound. When the book ends, she isn’t a completely different woman. That would diminish the restrained work Bird put into Katia’s character. Rather, Katia is in the process of becoming a more open and optimistic version of herself.

Zahra has had a crush on Katia since high school. She has settled for casual hook-ups with Katia and has never pressed for anything more. She’s always compared herself to Elizabeth and assumed her own dark skin and voluptuous curves did not measure up. One of the many things I like about Zahra is that she is smart and excellent at her job as a police officer trained in forensic crime scene investigations. What she lacks in confidence when it comes to her personal life, she makes up for with her take-charge attitude when it’s discovered that a serial killer has been living and killing in Buxton Beach. She is determined to go to any length to apprehend the murderer, and her feelings for Katia inspire and elevate her work. Once it seems like Katia might be in danger, Zahra becomes more and more protective of her and her family. Her quiet strength is exactly what Katia needs. The more constant and confident Zahra becomes, Katia begins to let her tough façade slip away. She is able to lean on Zahra and that brings about some much needed balance in her life.

The Writing Style

From its opening page, Sandman is a work of outstanding writing. Bird creates a world with stunning descriptions that are both inviting and gruesome. I adore how she brings every scene to life, laying out a detailed tableau that sets the stage for a riveting plot and understated character development. The story is one of violence. Bird juxtaposes the ferocity of Mother Nature with the brutality of a deranged killer. The first is organic, a savage storm that brings death and destruction to a small island town; the second is the twisted obsession of a deeply damaged individual, who wreaks havoc in the close-knit community. Both are engrossing and make for a book that I couldn’t set down.

Bird expertly shifts between the points of view of the two main characters and five primary secondary characters. There are two character points of view that are especially compelling. The first is that of Marco, Katia’s teenage brother, who has autism. He is virtually non-verbal and regulates himself with a strict schedule, a steady flow of classic cartoons, and the avoidance of human touch. Specific environmental sounds set him off, overwhelming his ability to process sensory input. At first, being inside his head felt abrupt, and I was prepared to dislike it. As the story progressed, I found his chaotic point of view reflective of the chaos going on in the community. The second point of view of note is that of the serial killer, Sandman. This point of view is eerily detailed, organized, and calculated. When reading books about serial killers, my favorite part is seeing what goes on in the killer’s mind. I’m both fascinated and repelled by the planning and execution of their horrendous crimes. I think I’m drawn to it because I can’t fathom the twisted reasoning behind their actions. Bird artfully brings this villain to life, and I was mesmerized.

Finally, the pacing of the plot is brilliant. It begins at a breakneck speed and never lets up. The desperate search for the identity of the killer drives the narrative, and I couldn’t turn away from the story. The fear of having to witness more murders kept my heart racing and it escalated with each chapter. This is one gripping ride.

The Pros

For anyone who is a lover of dogs, this book features several canine characters that are integral to the narrative. You could argue that they are the true heroes of this story.

The Cons

This is a thriller about a serial killer targeting women, so it is chock-full of triggers. Graphic details of murder scenes, child abuse, incest, and deviant pornography are part of this story. I know. It’s awful. In this case, the writing far outweighs the cons..

victorias favourite booksJeannie's Favourite BooksThe Conclusion

I love this book so much. It had me Riv-Et-Ed. Bird made some daring decisions with the plot and the backstory for some of the characters, and I applaud her for it. I can’t share those with you because, well SPOILERS! As I was reading this story, I had real physical reactions at various points. I could feel goose bumps spread up and down my arms with each new, ghastly discovery. There were several times when I could be heard saying, “Holy, expletive,” because the plot twists were so unexpected. I picked up this book on recommendation from a friend, and I had a lot of fun texting her throughout the day as I came across surprise after surprise. I want to immediately reread the book because now that I know “who did it,” I have a feeling that I will appreciate the nuances even more. My biggest regret is that Sandman is a 2018 release, and it took me this long to find it. I highly recommend this book. It’s a tough read, but worth every minute.

Excerpt from Sandman by Tammy Bird

Katia peeled away the layers of her navy-blue uniform and her still-damp bra and panties and stepped into the hot shower. She stood, numb, and watched as the sand and dirt rolled down her body. There were no explainable thoughts, no way to make sense of the day. She carried the lifeless bodies of children and friends through rubble and saw the partially eaten remains of the woman she loved as much as any child loved a parent.

Katia pulled out of her driveway twenty-five hours and twenty minutes ago with a life that was less than perfect, but predictable. She worked. She took care of brother and father. She read. She drew images of death and talked to her mother in the dark. Occasionally she danced and fucked. This was her normal. She had no idea that this was the day her world would be changed forever. But it was, and she didn’t know how to respond.

She slid down the side of the shower wall until her rear made contact with the warm tile floor. She pulled her knees against her chest, wrapped her tattooed arms around them tight, and let her emotions take over. When no tears were left, she reached up for the soap and scrubbed her skin until it was red and sore. She sat on the floor of the shower until the water ran cold and anger tore through her, smothering the numbness of fear.

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