Published: August 2017 by St. Martin’s Press
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
I chose this book as my Book of the Month Club pick back in September. If I’d just come across it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, there’s a good chance I would have passed it by. (Or actually I probably would’ve picked it up–just look at that gorgeous cover! But upon reading the synopsis, I might have set it back down again.) Not because it doesn’t sound interesting, but because thriller/suspense novels just really aren’t my thing. I struggle with them. I’ve tried, and I’ve certainly found ones I enjoyed. But with the majority of them, I spend the whole book anticipating twists and turns and surprises so much so that in the end it leaves me feeling very underwhelmed. I reach the final pages and feel as if the whole journey was somewhat of a waste…
Now is probably the time to tell you that I did not feel that way about Emma in the Night. I am very glad I heard good reviews from some bloggers I trust and that Book of the Month included it as one of the selections. Because otherwise I would have missed out on a book that I really liked.
If you don’t know, the basic premise of the book is this: two sisters disappear on the same night and have been missing ever since. Three years later, one sister, Cass, reappears at her mother’s door, while Emma remains missing. The story unfolds, told alternately between Cass’s first person narrative and a third person narrative focusing on Dr. Abby Winter, a forensic psychologist for the FBI who has worked on the case since the girls’ disappearance. The book takes place in the seven days after Cass’s return, while revealing the events that led up to the girls’ disappearance and the three years since.
Going into this book, I knew things would not be what they seemed. But all my anticipating and guessing didn’t leave me feeling underwhelmed as I so often am with books of this genre. Instead, I found myself at a loss to put all the pieces together myself, and desperately wanting Cass to reveal more–to finally tell us what really happened. I’ll admit I did feel a little bit of frustration at why we couldn’t just get the whole story. I often feel a lot of annoyance with unreliable narrators… more because of the way they’re used by the author more than the idea of an unreliable narrator itself. I still had a bit of that with this book, but not so much that I could not enjoy it, and as I got to know Cass’s character more, I came to accept that there was an element of unreliability to her without feeling annoyed by it. I thought that Wendy Walker did a good job not over-doing this aspect, but at the same time using it to really make the reader question what was true. And when I finally did get to the big reveal, I thought it was shocking, but still unsurprising. Everything had led up to that point, without making it obvious or too much of a stretch.
I very much enjoyed the psychological aspects of this book. I learned a lot about narcissistic personality disorder, and I thought the more clinical, “sciencey” parts describing the disorder were completely fascinating. I loved the way this aspect tied Dr. Winter in with Cass and her story, and I loved that this added an interesting element about whether or not the mother (or mothers, if you consider Dr. Winter’s mother as well), was to blame. How much can someone be blamed for their behavior when they’re suffering from a personality disorder?
I do think I would have liked to see more involving Dr. Winter. Yes, she’s a key character, and were in not for her insights into this specific case, things would have ended very differently. We see how much the Tanners’ case has impacted her life, and it’s easy to understand why as we learn more about her own childhood. But I think there’s some unreached potential there in that story line. I felt as though we were barely brushing the surface, and I find myself wishing for more now that I’ve finished the novel.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. While similar books have let me down in the past, I felt like this one lived up to the hype and I would definitely recommend it to fans of thriller/suspense novels, and also to those who like family drama (and I’ll be honest–there’s a lot of drama in this crazy family). I guess this means I won’t be giving up on this genre–if you’ve got any recommendations you think I might enjoy, send them my way!