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The Tests

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At the start of the summer of ‘88, Alex Clayton was desperate to find his place in the world. Constantly bullied and reeling from the recent loss of his mum, he sought friendship from local girl Sheryl Denton, and her colourful group of friends, Ben, Janette, Corkscrew and Gavin. But to join their group, Alex first needed to undertake four notorious initiation trials, known as the tests.
That year changed everything for Alex and shaped his entire life. The events that unfolded during that long summer would haunt the group forever.

Now, over three decades later, and living in Edinburgh, with his wife, Natalie, Alex’s past jeopardises his marriage when he has memory dreams that are so intense, that Natalie becomes concerned her husband is hiding a secret about his childhood.

Alex arranges a reunion with the old group, and travels back to his hometown in Kent, to piece together the events of ‘88. He must face his past, and face Gavin, who is a tormented soul, with nothing to lose. Gavin harbours a deep hatred for Alex and holds him responsible for a tragedy that occurred when they were kids.
Whilst Alex searches for answers, so too does Natalie, as she becomes hellbent on finding out what her husband is hiding.

As Alex and the group revisit moments from their past, dark secrets come to light, old feuds reignite, and things spiral out of control. It soon becomes clear that everything may not have happened as Alex remembered, and the truth about what happened will lead to total devastation for all those involved.

337 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 22, 2021

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About the author

Robert W. Kirby

6 books17 followers
I was born in 1979 and live in Kent with my wife and children. I ran a private investigation agency for over fifteen years, dealing in cases that involved breach of contract claims, commercial debt recovery, and process serving. My agency also specialised in people tracing, so much of my work revolved around tracking down debtors, dealing in adoption matters and locating missing persons. At times, I worked on some pretty bizarre cases and dealt with plenty of interesting and sometimes colourful individuals. I’ve had a huge passion for screenwriting for many years and started writing novels during the first lockdown. My first novel, The Tests, published on Amazon in 2021, was based on a spec screenplay that I originally wrote back in 2009. The Tests was then republished with Inkubator Books in 2022 under the new title – The Wrong Girl. I have since started writing a new series set in the South of England and the Netherlands (The Bartell crime thriller series) the first of which, The Feud on Dead Lane, is now available on Amazon. The second book in the series will be available in autumn 2023. My next standalone release, The Visit, is a psychological thriller set in the seaside town of Whitstable. This will be out in May 2023 published with Inkubator Books.

If you would like to be informed about my new book releases, book deals and free giveaways, don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter @ https://www.robertkirbybooks.com/subs...

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
Profile Image for Helen Christmas.
Author 9 books30 followers
November 29, 2021
I like books that get right inside characters’ heads and this author has done a great job. In addition to the main story, the character development is excellent, in so much as I loved the smaller sub-stories bubbling under the surface.

The main character I could sympathise with; Alex suffers with insomnia and comes to rely on sleeping pills such as Zopiclone to get a decent nights sleep, but there is a scene in Amsterdam where he buys a ready-rolled joint from a coffee shop, naively smokes the lot, unprepared for the strength of it, whites out and almost falls into a canal. This is a well-written novel, the characters authentic, some you love, some you will hate! The Tests is big on voice and I should warn people there is a raw laddish humour some may find annoying, even offensive. You have to remind yourself these are teenagers; boys in a gang who are downright obnoxious.

The Tests is gripping, terrifying and with scenes that pack a punch. Where many psychological thrillers concentrate on 1 central dilemma (e.g. a missing person, with much build up and suspense infused into day to day life), this book is jam packed with storylines coming thick and fast. Six kids, now in their forties; we meet them all and get right into their lives. Then slowly the backstory unravels, as one by one they are reunited. Alex, the outsider, was desperate to join their gang, because of a girl he liked, but was forced to undergo a series of initiation tests.

But these were not childhood pranks. These were scary and death defying. Alex risked life and limb, time and time again, just to pass them until one terrifying ordeal sparked a chain reaction of events that changed their lives forever.

Alex has lived with the consequences but who was truly to blame? Why did Gavin hate him so much?

This is a rollercoaster of a read, one of those books you cannot stop thinking about. There are references to mental problems such as schizophrenia, not to mention psychopathic enemies… but the dynamics are spot on, including plenty of teenage dominance and chest-beating. This is one of the most engaging, original and well plotted stories I have read since Six Stories by Matt Wesolovski and I am looking forward to reading more by this author.
Profile Image for Ellie Mitchell.
Author 6 books226 followers
January 31, 2022


The story is primarily set in Edinburgh, 2019, as photographer Alex Clayton struggles with re-occurring nightmares about a traumatic past memory.

We are then periodically taken back to Alex’s past (1988 – Kent), after his mother has passed away and his life slowly starts to fall apart. He soon befriends Sheryl, a kind and compassionate girl, and seeks to join her friendship circle. However, in order to do so, he is required to pass some mysterious initiation tests concocted by the fellow boys of the group. After passing several of these horrendous tests, Alex eventually decides to give the boys a taste of their own medicine, however, things do not go to plan.

Back in the present (2019), we learn about Alex’s life as a photographer, along with the lives of the other members of the group from the 1980s. Here, we see how Alex’s flashbacks and terrifying nightmares eventually force him to act, to call the group back together, to go over what really happened all those years ago.

The main question asked is ‘What did happen to Sheryl?’


As there are many characters whose point of views are covered in this story (both past and present), I’ve chosen to only focus on Alex, his wife, and (since the story centres around her) Sheryl.

Forty-five year old Alex Clayton is a sensitive photographer, who dislikes confrontation and suffers from horrific nightmares which keep him up all night. After so long of trying to manage them, he cannot wait any longer and seizes an opportunity to face his demons. As I learned more about Alex’s past, I came to see him as deeply troubled, someone who has endured a lot of heartache and abuse over the years. I thought his efforts to uncover the truth about what happened to his friend Sheryl were brave, although risky. Although there were certainly times when I disagreed with Alex’s actions, for the most part, I thought he was in the right for trying to repair things.

Natalie, Alex’s caring wife proves to be rather inquisitive as she seeks to understand what happened with Alex and Sheryl all those years ago. As a partner in an accountancy firm, Natalie appears as a strong and independent woman, with a curious and intelligent mind. Seeing her worry over her partner allowed me to better empathise with her. Her main goal in the story is to seek answers from Alex’s family as to what really happened to Alex’s childhood friend, Sheryl. Overall, I came to really like Natalie as a character and hoped that she would get the answers she sought.

Finally, we come to Sheryl, Alex’s childhood friend, whom he desperately wanted to impress all those years ago. Sheryl was a sweet, kind, and fun-loving young girl, who is described in such a way that she almost appears angelic in Alex’s eyes. Although we don’t come to learn too much about Sheryl until later on in the story, she appeared to me as the epitome of innocence and girlhood, snatched away by the cruelties of the wider world. In addition, she was always kind to Alex, doing her best to protect him from the cruelty of the others in her friendship group. To me, she was someone to admire, the type of person to treat others fairly and without judgement.

~Positive Aspects

There were numerous elements of The Tests which helped to round out the story and make it memorable. Below are some of the key elements I identified whilst reading.

-The characters are complex, with their own hidden secrets and personal dilemmas.

-I liked how we got to see what each character’s life had turned out like after so many years spent apart.

-The author did well, feeding the information about what happened all those years ago to the reader, bit by bit. Keeping key parts of information from the reader until later helped to maintain the suspense of the novel.

-The story dips between Alex’s past and present, slowly allowing the reader to piece the puzzle of Alex’s traumatic memories together. The author executed this well, and also allowed us a glimpse into the lives of the other individuals who were present in Alex’s past friendship group.

-There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie between the older friends, despite most of them not having seen each other for around thirty years.

-Sensory descriptions are used well, to create a vivid picture of the natural environments which dominate the novel.

-The tension was palpable, keeping me on the edge of my seat as I clicked through the digital pages of the ebook, needing to find out what happened.

-There were a few shocking twists which I did not see coming toward the end of the story. These particular twists completely changed my understanding of past events and had me in awe. I’d recommend reading this book for these great twists alone.

~Negative Elements

The only thing which I disliked a little was the frequent switches between points of view as these were often just separate paragraphs without headings to indicate the change in character perspective. Both past and present perspectives shift considerably within chapters, especially halfway through the novel. While this format worked well for the most part, I do still feel that having subheadings to indicate the change in perspective would be helpful.

~Memorable Quotes

Whilst reading, one particular quote stood out to me.

‘What he craved, more than anything, was to drift into a deep, dreamless sleep; a proper sleep where his mind emptied and his brain switched off.’

While I found this quote to be relatable to my own life, I also feel that it emphasized Alex’s core dilemma rather well. It demonstrates how deeply our pasts can affect us, causing us to agonise over events until they consume our entire being.


The Tests proved to be a dark, gripping read which discusses the secrets one group of friends has kept for over thirty years. It kept me hooked from start to finish, offering up several unexpected twists which caught me off guard, alongside featuring characters who were rich and complex.

Themes included: the past, loss, friendship, secrets, and the need to prove oneself to gain a sense of acceptance and belonging.

My Rating: 5 stars.
Recommended to: lovers of dark thrillers, with many unexpected twists.
Profile Image for Ellie.
132 reviews23 followers
October 25, 2021
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute read to curl up and get lost in, then you really need look no further than The Tests. Suspenseful, gripping and with plenty of twists and turns to sink your teeth into, this offering from Robert W Kirby has all the elements you’d expect from a good thriller while still managing to feel fresh and unique within the genre. Thanks to the fully realised characters, the witty dialogue and the enthralling plot, I struggled to put this one down and was utterly captivated from the very first page to the last, and highly recommend you add it to your reading list!

I won’t go too much into the plot here, as I don’t know about you but I don’t like to know too much going into thriller and suspense novels, but I did love the way in which our protagonist Alex was forced to confront what happened in his past and the way this was slowly unravelled to the reader. This really added another level of drama and suspense to the plot, and it was fascinating to see the impact that the past has had on the various characters, all of whom were brought to life so well by the author and felt like fully realised people in their own right. One of the things I often struggle with when it comes to the thriller genre is how flat or one-dimensional the characters feel, with the plot taking centre stage and all other elements playing second fiddle, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. Kirby’s writing gives equal attention to both the fantastic plot and the characters themselves, and consequently I was fully invested in the outcome of the novel and remained gripped throughout.

This was a great read, packed full with action and tension that will reel you in and keep you turning the pages. The twists and turns took me completely by surprise, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from this author when I’m in the mood to devour a book in a single sitting. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Laura.
97 reviews24 followers
October 23, 2021
The bittersweet childhood memories haunting in the dreams of Alex Clayton, and he is struggling to get over them. His hideous behavior makes his wife Natalie dig the past of Alex. In the meantime, Alex wanted to arrange a reunion with his schoolmates to wipe out his psychic issue.
“The Tests” by Robert W.Kirby is woven around our protagonist Alex who is a photographer by profession. He had an abusive childhood after the demise of his beloved mother. Alex loved the girl Sheryl and he wanted to prove himself before her. Therefore, he accepted the tests risking his own life. Each test is challenging and exciting with full of actions.
Here is one example:
‘Time for your last test, Clayton. We’ll give you one minute. Then we’re coming for you. If you escape the woods, you pass. If we catch you, then—’ Gavin pulled an imaginary rope about his neck and feigned choking.”
The author gradually increases the tension and curiosity of the reader in each chapter. The readers will have a thrilling, heart-pounding reading experience that will not stop turning the pages till the end.
The language is so intrinsic, and the pace of writing is vivid in each scene. the story is written in three facets. The present of Alex, his past, and the present story of Natalie who is searching for a trace of Sheryl. The author maintains the flow nicely giving the reader a cinematic experience.
If you are looking for an exciting action-packed read, this will be a great one. I was at the edge of the seat till the end. The end is unpredictable, and I invite all the readers to explore the secret of Alex. Excellent masterpiece Robert, wish to read more from you.
Profile Image for Lynne.
421 reviews37 followers
October 25, 2021
In the summer of 1988, Alex Clayton is desperate to become accepted into Sheryl Denton's group of friends. But to join he has to pass a series of initiation tests. When something terrible happens, Alex's life is changed forever. Three decades later he's still haunted by events of that summer. He arranges a reunion to discover exactly what happened back then and finally put the past behind him.

With a great plot and excellent writing, I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book is. The characterisation is fantastic and I really do believe the author captured the essence of the 1980s perfectly.

However, I was disappointed to find uses of a 'certain word' that is no longer socially acceptable. Yes, it was used in the '80s (I was an '80s teenager) but I firmly believe there's no place for it now. I'm sure an alternative could have been found without affecting the authenticity of the time period. Enough said and moving swiftly onwards . . .

I became fully invested in the lives of these people. The story is violent and brutal but this is counterbalanced nicely with moments of reflection and 'what could have been'. Considering this is the author's debut novel, I was highly impressed. A superb, exciting read!
Profile Image for PJ Creativepaws.
78 reviews3 followers
July 21, 2021
This is one of the best books that I have read recently. The Tests by Robert W Kirby is a well-written thriller. From the remnants of childhood memories and trauma, Alex Clayton's Reunion with his old friends weaves a tale that is part murder mystery and part psychological thriller as past chases present with terrifying consequences. The author finely balances the evidence of the past with a shadow play that takes place in the present, and will keep you guessing from chapter to chapter. You will love this story. Will justice be served or will revenge win the day instead? Sorry, no spoilers. As a mystery and a thriller, the book succeeds in hooking the reader with effective plotting and just the right degree of foreshadowing to cultivate suspense.
1 review
June 28, 2021
Great story, characters brought to life really well. The anticipation kept the pages turning and the resolution has to be read, no spoilers from this review.
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