Book: “Emma in the Night” by Wendy Walker
Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, August 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back…
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.
Review: As you all know, I’m a huge sucker for missing person stories, fiction and non fiction alike. As someone who lurks on the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit, I am fully taken in by disappearances that remain unsolved, but will gladly admit that it’s a bit safer and less exploitative when it’s within fiction. So when I heard about “Emma in the Night”, the story of two sisters who go missing and one of them being found, I knew that I would need to read it ASAP. But little did I know that another unsettling reality/thriller trope managed to rear it’s head into this book as well: the narcissistic parent. As someone who also lurks on the subreddit that tells survival tales of escaping narcissistic family members, this was just an added bit of icing onto an already tantalizing cake. But Wendy Walker presented something far more complex and attention grabbing than I thought it was going to be, and does a good job of giving victims and survivors a voice instead of objectifying them for the sake of a good story.
The two different narratives are both steeped in unreliable perspectives. The first is that of Cass, the daughter who came back who clearly has a separate agenda from what she’s presenting to those around her. Through her we start to see that perhaps there are other villains in this world outside of the strangers that lurk behind every turn, and see that she has a deep vendetta against her mother Judy. Judy is a classic narcissistic personality, with a golden child (Emma) and a scapegoat (Cass), and the hatred that Cass feels towards her in palpable. I will admit that as I was going into this I was trying to find all the clues and hints towards what the end game was, but Walker hid them in such a way that I pretty much didn’t find them. Like, at all. I don’t know if my game was off, but the reading experience for me was disorienting in a good way because I KNEW that there was more to the story, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I liked how much I questioned Cass as well, as while I pretty much believed her and her revulsion for her mother, I still wondered if she too didn’t have problems and ulterior motives because she was raised by a narcissist, and was therefore messed up herself because of it.
Abby, too, was an interesting character, with complexities and flaws that made her unreliable, but also completely sympathetic. She was also raised by a narcissistic mother, and therefore goes into this case with experience and the ability to recognize behaviors when it comes to Judy, Cass, and the missing Emma. She was used in a way for Walker to really put narcissism out there and to really dive into it, as Abby has her own past experiences with it because of her mother. I think that a lot of the time we see narcissistic parents in over the top ways (“Mother, Mother” by Koren Zailckas comes to mind) where they are scary monsters with deliberately violent or abusive tendencies. But in “Emma in the Night” we see a lot more of the less definable traits, like Judy manipulating her children into warfare against each other, or turning on a facade that wins her custody when she is actually a terrible parent. But then, there is the fact that Abby is completely biased, so we end up questioning her too. Because of these various red herrings and inconsistencies between the characters and their motivations, Walker’s sleight of hand distracted me enough throughout the narration that I didn’t see the ultimate prestige coming. Which I greatly appreciated by the time I finished out the book.
I will say that there were a couple of things that I did find a bit too convenient to be really believable. I don’t really want to spoil anything for anyone who might be interested in reading this, because I do think that it’s ultimately worth the read and a solid thriller, but just know that a couple of things within the ultimate solution to the whole thing just kind of felt too coincidental for me to take it terribly seriously. Yes, life is random, and yes, technically anything is possible, but when it comes to probability that’s where certain plot points in this book start to get a little iffy. It’s not enough to put me off, just know that it knocked a couple of points off if we’re keeping score. I think that sometimes authors can get carried away with the red herrings, but Walker actually got carried away with trying to eliminate as many red herrings as possible and to make unreliability more reliable.
Overall I think that “Emma in the Night” did a good job of keeping this reader on her toes. I am definitely going to look into whatever Walker comes out with next (I would actually love to see more of Abby Winter as well), and definitely think that thriller fans ought to give her a go.
Rating 7: An engrossing and twisty thriller, “Emma in the Night” not only kept me guessing, it brings a unique take to the thriller genre by bringing in narcissism to add more questions to the plot.
“Emma in the Night” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and “There’s Something Dangerous About The Boredom of Teenage Girls”.
Find “Emma in the Night” at your library using WorldCat!