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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.