September 17, 2017

Emma in the Night - Wendy Walker

St. Martin’s Press, August 8, 2017.


Five Stars


Emma in the Night is Walker’s second novel after 2016’s All is Not Forgotten, and while the two books share much in style and substance, I found this one more compelling and enjoyable. Three years ago, the Tanner sisters – 17-year-old Emma and 15-year-old Cassandra – went missing with no explanation. The circumstances were suspicious – Emma’s car was found abandoned in a parking lot near the beach, and her shoes abandoned by the shore. There was no evidence that Cass was with her, and yet she is gone too.


Now, three years later, Cass shows up on her mother’s doorstep – without Emma. She tells an incredible tale about kidnapping and captivity on an isolated island which cannot be located, and a daring and dangerous plan for escape. Forensic psychiatrist Abigail Winter worked on the Tanner sisters’ case years before, and she always felt that there was some obvious clue that she was missing. Now, hearing Cass’s story and watching her interactions with her mother, she suspects that the reason for the girls’ disappearance is close to home. With Cass’s help, Abby slowly uncovers the dysfunctional family’s secrets of narcissism and abuse.


The novel is told in dialogue, as Cass slowly reveals her (perhaps unreliable) story in careful moderation – she manipulates her audience much as Walker leads the reader on this fascinating journey. The structure of this novel is much like Walker’s first novel – it is an unconventional thriller in which the story takes place after the main action has concluded. It is more like reading the case notes of a crime, delving into the obsession and mental illness that formed these characters. There is much more telling than showing, and yet it works. Cass’s story is perhaps even more compelling because we did not witness the action and therefore cannot know if anything she’s saying is true.


The procedural aspects of the story are not all that realistic, but it is worthwhile to suspend disbelief and trust that each piece will eventually fit together. The slow reveal is geared towards reader manipulation – to keep us guessing and successfully create suspense. I thought some of the characters could have been more complex, instead of so clearly good or evil – but Cass especially was intriguing. Her narration is detached and cold, which keeps the reader at a distance, but it works because she withholds her true feelings and motivations right up to the last scene.


While Emma in the Night has its flaws, Walker is a talented storyteller who manages to lead the reader without oversimplifying the story. The descriptions of mental illness are fascinating and disturbing, especially as Emma and Cass are affected by their mother’s behaviour in very different ways. Cass’s flat narration has a strong emotional undercurrent that gives depth to the novel, creating an intelligent and thoughtful mystery that crosses genres in unexpected ways.


I received this book from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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