I love suspense thrillers – really, if I’m being honest, they’re my favorite kind of book. I love to tuck into a good mystery or a nonfiction book about a topic I love but, at the end of the day, it’s suspense thrillers I go back to when I want to get lost in a book. They’re fast-paced, plot focused, and have just the right amount of tension to keep you up reading into the wee hours of the night. The problem, of course, when you read a lot of books in the same genre back to back is that the plot lines start to feel… old. Nothing is fresh. The “surprise twists” start to be come predictable, the characters do exactly what you expect them to do, and the bad guys all have the same motive. If you’re lucky, the writing sets some apart from others, or maybe some exotic locales can serve to add a dash of something new.
That’s why, after reading Emma in the Night, I realized that I had lucked into something great.
The story starts with a bang, as 18-year-old Cass Tanner knocks on her family’s front door late one night. Cass has been missing and presumed dead, along with her older sister Emma, after they both disappeared one night three years prior. As family and investigators gather around her to hear her account of what happened that night, Cass begins to tell her story – a story that involves a baby and an escape from an island where she and Emma were being held captive. The forensic psychologist assigned to the case of the missing sisters, Dr. Abby Winter, is suspicious of how polished Cass’ story seems to be, as she has long believed something else was going on in the Tanner household when the girls disappeared. In alternating chapters, Cass tells investigators how to find her sister while Abby seeks to discover what, if anything, Cass feels she still needs to hide.
The multiple POV style seems to be gaining popularity in the genre and sometimes it feels overused but here it was executed perfectly. You get to hear Cass’ inner thoughts as she narrates her story for her audience, all the while following Abby as she becomes increasingly emotionally invested in the case and begins to see herself and her family in Cass’. As the book goes on both characters become *less* reliable, leaving you on unstable footing as a reader. For a less talented writer this could cause the characters to seem inauthentic or less sympathetic, but in Walker’s skilled hand this feels more like two sincere people who cannot both possibly be telling the truth. The narration unspools like this gradually until you suddenly realize that you don’t know what has been the truth and what has been a lie. Small revelations appear at just the right time, hinting at something larger that dances just out of view of the reader. When the truth comes out, it’s jaw dropping. In most of my reading I can say that I saw bits of the ending coming even if I didn’t actually guess the entirety of the outcome. With this one I was completely blindsided and couldn’t have been happier to have been so surprised. It was entirely satisfying, especially because the book stayed strongly character driven throughout.
My only real criticism of this novel is that some of the mental illness suffered by the characters was dealt with in a heavy-handed way. I think most readers would recognize the problems this family was facing without it being spelled out so directly and it felt a bit like a “tell” rather than a “show” by the author. However it was such a small problem that the rest of the novel’s strengths more than made up for this flaw.
To find a thriller that examines mental illness and it’s devastating effects on a family while also maintaining a strong pace and compelling characters is a treat. This is a novel I highly recommend.
For more great reviews this month, check out Barrie’s Blog!
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