AFTER THE SLEEPOVER (The Sleepover #2)
Twenty-five years ago: teenage Leah had a sleepover with her three best friends. By morning, the other girls were missing. This small town has been searching for answers ever since. Now it’s happened again…
Three boys decide to camp in a field next to one of their homes. When dawn comes, dew glistens on their empty tents.
Overgrown farmland is searched. Three distraught families are desperate for news. A mother herself now, Leah’s heart breaks as terrible memories flood back…
Leah thought she knew what happened at the sleepover years ago but now another three children are missing. What if she was wrong? And how far will Leah have to go, to finally discover the truth, before it’s too late?
Kerry Wilkinson is from the English county of Somerset, having been born in Bath and growing up in Frome, but has spent far too long living in the north west of the country, where he has picked up possibly made-up regional words like ‘barm’ and ‘ginnel’. He pretends to know what they mean.
He has a degree in journalism and spent 10 years working at a national level before the workload of juggling that with writing – essentially two full-time jobs – became too much and he decided to become an author
He has had bestselling ebooks in the UK, Canada, Australia and South Africa. In 2011, he became one of the United Kingdom’s most-successful self-published authors, but has since worked with ‘traditional’ publishers.
In the final quarter of 2011, Amazon UK announced he was their top-selling author for their Amazon Kindle chart – and that he had sold over 250,000 ebooks.
MEMORABLE LINES FROM THE BOOK
“Mud stuck and the town was too small to have it flung around”
“For now, it was more smoke and mirrors. Fake it until you make it”
“But Esther and Leah were now friends of a sort. Secrets did that to people”
“She was the mother of a missing boy. The daughter of an abusive killer of a father. Jennifer was a victim. But Leah knew better than anyone what victims were capable of”
“It was easy to judge him, and Leah was, but she also knew what it was like to be asked the same questions over and over. She understood the desire to get away from an interview room”
“There were always reasons to lie, especially for a lonely woman who wanted a friend”
“It felt like it was probably true. Leah seemed to spend a lot of time attempting to figure out whether people were telling lies”
“Three teenagers disappeared. And it’s happened again…”
I can’t remember a time when I have read two instalments from a series almost consecutively, but that’s just how things panned out on this occasion. I had heard that the two books could be read as stand alone stories, however, it was good to find out just how closely, if at all, they were linked, especially after the last minute revelations in The Night Of the Sleepover. Whilst indeed this book could well be read in isolation of its predecessor, I would probably urge you to read them both in back-to-back succession, as, IMHO, they work much better as one long continuous story.
In that first story, I met the main protagonist Leah, some twenty-five years after the sleepover which found her, the only teenager to wake in the lounge of her friend’s house, with three empty sleeping bags for company. The brother of one of the missing girls had recently been in town to make a documentary about that night and events leading up to it, in the hope of resurrecting what had become for the police, a ‘cold case’. Leah, who still lived in the town, had become almost (albeit at an arm’s length) friendly with Esther, the older sister of one of the missing girls. The two women had their own secrets from those teenage years, which they had never revealed to anyone else, although little did Esther know, but whilst she had, in all good faith, revealed her own secret completely to Leah, Leah in turn had never been quite so forthcoming in divulging her own full version of the truth, which she aimed to take to the grave with her.
Now, just after the premier of the documentary, Leah’s teenage son Zac, is shocked to discover that three boys from his year at school, albeit none of them his personal friends, have gone missing after camping out in a field on the farm where one of them lives. Despite not knowing one another, Dylan’s mother Jennifer calls Leah, who is now now a community support worker and asks for her help in coping with the situation she finds herself in. Against her better judgement Leah heads out to the farm, unprepared for the dilapidated state it appears to be in and equally aghast at the conditions in which fellow single parent Jennifer lives, whilst trying to raise her son and eke out a living for them both. At first, the two women are a little uneasy around each other, as each can see the other, reflected in their own circumstances and lives. Both had very dysfunctional and damaged mothers, abusive fathers and friends who seemed to lead perfect lives with loving families surrounding them. Jennifer confides in Leah, perhaps a little more than she should about her childhood and the long-held concerns she holds about her father’s behaviour following her mother’s disappearance. Some of her allegations seem so important that Leah feels compelled to pass on this vital information to the police investigation team, although Jennifer seems surprisingly at ease with facing further questioning, whilst trying to deal with the disappearance of her son and his friends. Leah becomes increasingly uneasy with the direction her relationship with Jennifer is taking. However, because she is unsure just how much Jennifer knows, or thinks she knows, about the events of twenty five years ago, she finds herself not only unable to walk away from the situation, but potentially and very involuntarily, revealing more about her past to Jennifer than she needs to know.
Meanwhile, more serious allegations emerge against a third party, which are unconnected directly to the disappearance of Dylan and his friends, but which do involve Dylan and have every bit as much power to rock the whole community anew. Events take an even stranger turn when, some days later, Dylan is found wandering the roads, seemingly unharmed. However, there is no sign of the other two boys and Dylan doesn’t know where he has been held, or why he has been released. Then the bodies start to stack up and alarm bells begin ringing loud and clear for Leah, who is convinced that she is being played by Jennifer, until such a time that the latter chooses to reveal both their secrets, which will potentially take them all down, including an unsuspecting Esther, whilst destroying the hub of loving and protective people Leah has built around herself.
Two missing trios, one girls, one boys, twenty five years apart…
Ooh! In many ways I actually enjoyed this second storyline much more than the first. I don’t really think there was any more of a sense of complete closure by the end, but the air of unspoken threat and menace throughout really held me gripped and unable to escape the intense atmosphere, which was so claustrophobic and suffocating it was like falling into a vat of treacle and never being able to fight my way to the surface.
There were so many strands to this well-constructed, multi-layered storyline, which author Kerry Wilkinson had carefully woven together and sprinkled with a liberal portion of red herrings, so that I had no idea of an eventual outcome, until he skilfully unravelled the secrets one by one and began dovetailing them together into a bombshell ending which rivalled, and probably for me, surpassed that of the first book.
Thankfully, Kerry had considered the emotionally draining and nerve jangling effect the book was going to have on its readers and had kindly broken down the chapters into a manageable size, which allowed me some short periods of respite and recovery, before taking another deep breath and getting sucked back into the manipulative clutches of the dour and lugubrious characters he had created.
I began to doubt myself in what I thought I knew about Leah’s background and the suspicions I had about Jennifer, when there were just so many suspects unknowingly lining themselves up, or being set up, for crimes I assumed they weren’t and could never have been, guilty of. Overall though, the entire cast of characters really didn’t inspire any positive thoughts from me, with the possible exceptions of Deborah and Zac, who were probably the only truly innocents. Everyone else either had so many secrets to hide, or personal axes to grind, that they were totally uncredible, even down to the rather ‘beige’ Ben, with whom Leah had been having a clandestine affair, which neither of their respective sons had any idea was going on and which really didn’t seem to be going anywhere, with neither of them having the energy or will to take things to the next level.
Once again Kerry has unashamedly infused the storyline with many of the more disturbing social mores which are unfortunately part of the fabric of our modern times, allowing them to play out without outwardly contriving an outcome, making them realistic and immersing me in Leah and Jennifer’s disturbed and distorted worlds. Both victims of the of hate and vitriol that existed between their respective parents, both left motherless, then, unable to commit to a lasting relationship, both finding themselves single parents to teenage sons. Leah had however contrived to find the love she yearned for in her later teens and had, with help, built a strong relationship with her son, Zac, who had thus far steered a path on the straight and narrow. Whilst Jennifer had carried the hate and hurt with her into adulthood, passing it on to her son, Dylan, who was now totally adept at manipulating a situation for his own benefit, whilst his mother was always on hand, appearing to encourage his deceitfulness and need to stand out from the crowd, as if it was his entitlement.
The question of an adult having sexual relations with an underage minor, is also thrown into the spotlight when social media accounts are examined for one purpose, only to reveal another crime which might have remained undetected in perpetuity. That it involves multiple adolescents and a person of high moral standing and influence in the community, only adds to the overall problems of trust and truth this town suffers.
The one small niggle I had with this storyline, was much the same is it was with the first book, in that there was no real sense of time or place, where I could pin my colours to the mast and identify a location. I only know for certain that we were somewhere in England and few more hints in this story gave away the fact that we might be somewhere quite close to the coast. Not entirely satisfactory for a confirmed ‘armchair traveller’ like myself, although there were some good detailed and descriptive passages relating to the farm and its locale, which meant that not all was lost.
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by the publisher.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4* out of 5!