Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: 8 August 2017
“One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.”
My Thoughts: All good psychological thrillers deserve to be read with no inkling of what is to come. Therefore, this will be nothing but my attempt to gush about Emma in the Night without any spoilers. Prepare yourself for a lot of gushing.
Yes, Emma in the Night uses some of the same tropes that have always been used in psychological thrillers. We have the jaded psychiatrist, a dysfunctional family, and a mystery where things are not as they seem. It is how Wendy Walker puts them all together that makes the story so engrossing.
The entire premise – of two sisters missing and one returning without the other – is intriguing in its own right. But from the moment we first meet Cass, you know this is not going to be a typical whodunit novel. Moreover, while you know Cass is hiding something and it would be all too easy to dismiss her as an unreliable narrator, there is something about her that prevents you from doing so. You take what she has to say at face value, which only muddies the various agendas and prevents a clear picture of where it is all going.
The rest of the characters flow in the same way. Filled with secrets and possible ulterior motives, you spend as much time wondering what is true as you do wondering what the endgame is. The final secret is one that leaves you in awe at the masterful way Ms. Walker steers readers towards the ending without giving away a single thing.
What made the novel for me was the narcissistic parent. This is not the same self-absorbed parent we typically see in any novel. This is a whole new level of narcissism, as in an actual disease of the mind. Ms. Walker does an amazing job explaining the difference and its rarity. Plus, she creates a character that is entirely believable even as the character is doing the most despicable things. Watching this parent manipulate others is equal parts revolting and fascinating, and the degree of the manipulation will shock even the most hardened reader. Yet, the behavior fits with everything we learn about the parent. Combined with Cass’ earnestness and Dr. Winter’s emotional involvement, it makes for an unputdownable novel.