Sandman - Sean Costello

Originally published in Northern Life May 25, 2005

For most thrillers, there’s an unwritten contract between the writer and the reader. The way it almost always goes is the good guys, while faced with difficult and tension-creating challenges, are going to win in the end. It’s like a rollercoaster ride. Scary, but safe.

With Dr. Sean Costello’s latest novel, that contract simply doesn’t exist. For that matter, just figuring out who the good guys and bad guys are can be tricky at best.

In Sandman, the rollercoaster dips and curves are thrilling, but you never know if the next turn might run you right off the track.

No matter how much you might care for the characters Costello has crafted, nobody is truly safe. And therein lies the real heart-stopping suspense. This gifted storyteller’s knack for thrusting believable, likeable characters into a very real setting and spinning out a tale that rolls faster and faster to a climactic end, makes Sandman one of the best thrillers I have ever read, period.

Sandman is a novel close to the writer’s personal world. An anaesthesiologist by profession,
Costello was compelled by a disturbing question. What if the person trusted to ensure that the patient was comfortably sedated for an operation, this last person that the patient sees before the darkness closes in, was, in fact, a psychopath?

What if the patient’s last glimpse is not of the calming and trustworthy eyes of a professional,
whose main concern is his well-being, but instead, the cold calculated glare of a madman?
So begins the premise of Sandman, set in Ottawa, and packed with a cast of medical rofessionals, their families and friends.

Costello’s talent for bringing the setting to the forefront is stunning. When reading this novel I felt as if I were actually visiting Ottawa. This suspenseful thriller starts off as a “whodunit” – one of these characters is secretly a homicidal killer – but midway through the novel, when the killer is revealed to the reader, the suspense gets turned up yet another notch.

Sandman begins with a solid punch, then proceeds to pummel the reader with attacks from multiple plotlines, never letting up until the very last word.

Costello draws an interesting downward spiral of chaos that permeates his character’s personal and professional lives. Trying to summarize them would give too much of the intriguing story away.

However, as a fun teaser, Costello has made the prologue of the novel available on his website (

But be warned. Once you peel open the front cover of this book, you’ll be captured under Costello’s hypnotic spell, and, like the victims of the Sandman, be whisked through a dark and disturbing nightmare.

It is said that a good writer writes what he knows. Costello has proven this time and again with his previous novels. Eden’s Eyes, The Cartoonist and Captain Quad were all medically
based, inspired or set in places and with characters familiar to a physician. Finders Keepers, while a fantastic thriller in its own right, and Costello’s last release after a 10-year hiatus, was
the only one of his novels that departed down a non-medically based route.

The fact that Costello carefully fleshes out his characters into genuine people and polishes his writing down to tight, purposeful prose, the subject matter is not relevant to the level of
enjoyment one gets when reading his work.

It’s a simple case of, if Costello writes it, it’s good. And he keeps getting better with each new release.

But, that being said, it’s obvious that Costello is most at home writing a novel that might be described as a cross between Michael Crichton and Stephen King.

Welcome, home, Dr. Costello.


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