May 25, 2016

The Night Sister - Jennifer McMahon


Anchor Canada, March 8, 2016.



Four Stars



The Night Sister is a creepy, supernatural thriller set at the Tower Motel, a derelict old building in New England. With obvious nods to Hitchcock and the movie “Psycho,” a series of violent and terrifying crimes take place in the old motel. The novel moves in time, from the 1980s childhood of sisters Piper and Margot, and their friend Amy who lives at the motel, to the 1950s and the story of Amy’s mother and aunt, to the present day in which Amy is raising her own family at the motel.


The novel opens with a horrific crime that involves Amy and her family – her young daughter is the only survivor. An extremely pregnant Margot find out about the crime through her police officer husband, and Margot’s sister Piper ends up forming a bond with Amy’s daughter. Amy leaves one clue at the crime scene: a blurry photograph and the words “Room 29” – referring to a hidden room in the Tower Motel.


As we learn more about the motel’s past inhabitants, secrets are revealed. Amy’s Aunt Sylvie left behind a series of letters written to none other than Alfred Hitchcock, describing her unusual sister, Rose. And Piper recalls the summer of 1989 in which her and Margot spent all of their time with the charismatic Amy, who kept them busy with the mysteries of the motel. Because details about the past emerge slowly, the novel is suspenseful rather than gory – there is horror, but it is scary because of what goes unsaid. The subtle twists are more exciting as we learn that almost all of the characters are unreliable, and, like Piper, we don’t know who we can trust.


The Night Sister begins slowly, and builds to a suspenseful climax – it’s not outright scary, but instead it is the unexpected elements that make it so creepy. The atmospheric details and accurate historical settings make this novel an enjoyable escapist read. The supernatural elements of the story come from obscure folklore and witchcraft, so they are still unpredictable in a world in which vampires and werewolves are everywhere. Paranormal stories don’t usually scare me, but it was pretty creepy finishing this late at night – while the ending was a bit ridiculous, it was easy to suspend disbelief and just enjoy it. I will be reading more by McMahon, just because it was so much fun to follow her lead and live for awhile in her world of suspense and intrigue.


I received this novel from Anchor Canada and Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

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