I’ve been a fan of Chris Bohjalian for many years, so when I had the opportunity to receive an advance copy of his latest novel, The Sleepwalker, from NetGalley and Doubleday Books in exchange for my honest review, I jumped on it!
The story is told looking back at the year 2000, and revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Annalee Ahlberg late one night. Her two daughters (21-year-old college student Lianna, who is home for her break, and 12-year-old Paige) both sleep through the night with no awareness of why their mother is gone when they wake up. Their father, an English professor at a nearby college, is away at a poetry conference the night Annalee goes missing, so although the police always look first at the spouse, he seems to have a rock solid alibi.
He works to keep his wife’s status in front of the public to help in the search for her, as he is well aware that people move on: “People survive by being callous, not kind, he sometimes taught his students, not trying to be dismissive of the species, but realistic. How, he lectured, could we ever face the morning if we did not grow inured to the monstrosities that marked the world daily: tsunamis and plane crashes and terrorism and war?”
As the story unfolds, we learn that all was not always smooth sailing in the marriage, although things usually LOOKED calm. Lianna sees beyond the surface: “Usually when they fought, they fought rather quietly, their barbs sharpened on whetstones of condescension and sarcasm.”
We learn that Annalee had a history of sleepwalking, although she never had an “event” if her husband was home. We also learn that they had been through multiple miscarriages between Lianna’s birth and Paige’s, and there was town gossip about Paige’s paternity. Lianna finds herself attracted to Gavin Rikert, the police detective who takes the lead on the investigation – and keeps their growing relationship secret from her father and sister. Things get complicated when she learns that Gavin is also a sleepwalker, had met her mother at the sleep clinic, and that they had an ongoing friendship (which no one in the Ahlberg family knew ANYTHING about).
This is way too challenging to discuss without spoiling the mystery. As I read on my Kindle and realized I was 95% through the book, I was wondering how the BLEEP the story would be resolved in the few remaining pages. And once I finished it, I found myself wanting to go back and re-read it, armed with my new knowledge!
I learned a ton about sleep disorders, which I appreciated, having been a sleepwalker as a child and, as an adult, having spent a few nights covered with electrodes at the sleep clinic (although my disorder was not and is not at all similar to Anna lee’s).
It’s well written, the mystery was not revealed until the very end (although I am one of those mystery readers who rarely figures things out before the big reveal), the characters were very well drawn, and I learned some things! I give it five stars.