Title: Are You Sleeping
Author: Kathleen Barber
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish Date: August 1, 2017
Genre: Mystery Thriller
My Rating: 5/5
Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.
The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.
Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.
The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.
When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.
Josie’s father, Chuck Buhrman, was murdered when she was a teenager. Her twin sister, Lanie, saw the murder take place and identified the killer, a neighborhood teenager named Warren Cave. Warren was found guilty and spent the next 13 years in prison. The book picks up from there, 13 years after the trial, when a new podcast renews interest in the mystery… and questions if Warren really did it.
After her father’s death, Josie’s family did not handle things well. The mother abandoned her daughters and joined a cult. The cult did not allow contact with outsiders, so nobody has had contact with her since the trial.
The twins spent their remaining teenage years being raised by their aunt. Josie was always the good daughter, while Lanie was the rebellious one. This resulted in several altercations while they were teenagers, and ultimately ended with Josie leaving and never returning to their small town.
After the twin’s mother dies, Josie decides to return home for the funeral. Once she arrives, she learns a few things have changed since she left, her sister being the biggest change.
The story is primarily told from Josie’s point of view. She is now in her late twenties and has distanced herself from her past, including moving and changing her name. She has a good job, a nice place to live, and a serious relationship with her boyfriend, who she’s never told the truth about her family history. She has never had any reason to question who killed her father, and only wants to put her past behind her.
Other parts of the book are transcripts of the podcast. Poppy Parnell, the investigative journalist who started the podcast, interviews everyone she can that was connected to the Chuck Buhrman murder case. The podcast has thrust the Buhrman family in the spotlight, and they are angry and upset with their family history becoming a casual topic to be debated online.
I had fun reading this thriller. It’s well written, and I loved the combination of traditional storytelling with podcast transcripts and social media updates (Twitter and Reddit). I see where this is touted as Serial meets Ruth Ware. The podcast in Are You Sleeping had the feel of Serial, and I couldn’t help but compare the two while I read. As for the writing, it’s a very readable thriller, similar in style to novels by Ruth Ware.
Are You Sleeping is Kathleen Barber’s debut novel, and I look forward to reading more by her.