Book Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Chuck Buhrman’s murder was a shocking, senseless crime, but at least justice has been served, right? Right? But what if Warren Cave didn’t do it? What if he’s spending his life in prison for a murder he did not commit? My name is Poppy Parnell, and this is Reconsidered: The Chuck Buhrman Murder. I’m going to spend the next several weeks investigating these questions and others that may arise. My goal? To take a hard, unflinching look at the scant evidence that might have convicted an innocent man, and to perhaps uncover the truth— or put to rest any lingering doubts— about what really happened that fateful night in October 2002. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Years after the death of her father, who was shot in his kitchen in the middle of the night, Josie is slowly building a life for herself. Having lost more than just her father that night- her twin sister Lanie turning to drugs and destructive behavior and her mother abandoning her daughters to join a cult, Josie floats through life mostly alone behind the walls she built around herself. The only person who she finds any safety with is her boyfriend, Caleb, and even her doesn’t know the truth of her past.

When I first met Caleb, I had told him my parents had passed away. It was a careless, throwaway line I had been using as I backpacked and hitchhiked my way across Europe, Southeast Asia, Europe again, and then finally Africa. Those relationships had seemed disposable; there was no need to ruin the mood with stories of my murdered father, my insane mother, and my despised sister. But Caleb had turned out to be the furthest thing from disposable, and then the lie fed upon itself and grew, and I had never known how to tell him the truth.

When a podcast re-examines the circumstances that led to her father’s death and the verdict served to the neighbor boy, Warren Cave, those walls come crumbling down. The podcast quickly becomes all that anyone can talk about- throwing Josie directly into the middle of her nightmares.

“Dude, have you heard about this Chuck Buhrman murder thing?” Blood roared in my ears, and my vision went blurry. It had been more than a decade since I had heard my father’s name, and hearing it casually tumble out of the mouth of a skinny teenager with a lip piercing made my stomach turn.

Enraged and terrified at the thought of reliving the horrors of her father’s murder, Josie can’t seem to escape the ever-present conversational snippets, Tweets and Reddit discussions that abound the internet following the release of the first episode. Worn down by fear and determined to find fault in the story spun by the podcast, she cannot help but to listen.

Even though Ellen emphatically warned me not to listen to the podcast, I remained tempted, the same way one was tempted to pick at a scab or tug at a torn cuticle until it bled. I knew nothing good could come from listening, but I wanted— no, I needed— to know what this Poppy Parnell person was saying. How could she possibly justify “reconsidering” my father’s murder? And how could that be the premise for an entire series? I could effectively summarize the case in one sentence: Warren Cave killed Chuck Buhrman. End of story.

But as she continues to listen, events and evidence are brought to light, due in large part to the amount of time that has passed since the actual murder and the dogged investigational techniques of Reconsidered‘s host, Poppy, which cause her to question the events of her past.

In the end, the physical evidence was shaky and circumstantial, and the foundation of the State’s case against Warren Cave was the testimony of the victim’s fifteen-year-old daughter, who had changed her story twice in the first thirty minutes that she spoke with police. Was she just traumatized, as the State maintained at trial? Or was she telling a calculated lie?

Alienated by her sister’s deception, addiction and betrayal, Josie has not spoken to or seen her twin in numerous years. When another family crisis forces Josie to return to her hometown, she must also face her sister, Lanie. This unexpected reunion, combined with the unrelenting presence of the podcast, force Josie and Lanie to revisit their estrangement and attempt to put it aside to protect the memory of their father. However, Reconsidered continues to dig deeper, unearthing one surprise after another which pulls at the new ad fragile threads of love and family connecting Josie and Lanie. Will there be one thread pulled to undo it all?

I shuddered as a sudden memory flashed through my mind, the two of us pressed together in the pitch-dark of the bedroom closet, squeezing hands so tightly I thought our bones would break, Lanie hotly whispering, It’s my fault.

Are You Sleeping is a thought-provoking and suspenseful look at the power of media, the effect of emotional trauma and the many ways the bonds of family can be tested.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Jo. The truth is never complicated. It’s just the truth. Circumstances may be complicated, but the truth is always black and white.”

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A review copy of this title was provided by Gallery Books and Netgalley.

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