Book review: Author Chris Bohjaliam tackles the mystery of sleepwalking
Annalee Ahlberg has already vanished at the start of “The Sleepwalker,” and the search for her drives this eerie new mystery by Chris Bohjalian.
There’s no body and few clues to help answer the how and why of Annalee’s disappearance. She left some time during the night from her home at the edge of a small town near a river, and no one heard her go.
She has a history of sleepwalking and that’s the problem — the family thought it was under control, but her sleep disorder is no ordinary one.
In the past, a sleepwalking Annalee has been found spray painting the hydrangeas silver during the night, cross country skiing in the woods, and, most terrifying, standing naked at the edge of a bridge. It’s been years since she wandered, though.
Why did she do it now? What drove her from her bed while her daughters slept and her husband was out of town at a conference?
A search begins, and readers delve into the terrifying world of sleepwalking.
The search for Annalee is told from the perspective of her oldest daughter Lianna, but between chapters there are brief interludes from a sleepwalker about the affliction. Is the sleepwalker Annalee? Someone else?
Lianna find herself drawn to a detective with the state police who works her mother’s case. They start a relationship that seems on the knife’s edge of ethical and professional boundaries. Detective Gavin Rikert seems to know too much about Annalee, and Lianna can’t figure out why, or what the relationship was between Gavin and her mother.
She hides the budding romance from her family and abandons her college studies while the search continues for Annalee.
Lianna’s younger sister is just 12, but a competitive swimmer and ski racer. Once the rescue boats and crime teams have moved on, Paige arms herself with a snorkel and swim fins to comb the river near their home herself.
Lianna, Paige and their father are convinced Annalee is dead, but don’t want to say it aloud. If she was sleepwalking, though, where is the body?
To figure out what happened, the story moves backward into Annalee’s past as the official investigation stalls.
The story’s pace is slow, but spooky. Bohjalian’s beautiful prose and well-developed characters move the book along, making this a literary entry in the popular missing-woman genre. Everything builds to reach an enormous, satisfying twist at the end.
“The Sleepwalker” is about loss, desire and how the lies told between loved ones can grow their own life.
It will keep you thinking — probably too long into the night — like the quote from poet Sylvia Plath at the start of the book: “I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me.”