Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: "Emma in the Night" by Wendy Walker

I've remarked in previous reviews that much like they say in spy movies, my philosophy when reading thrillers is simple: trust no one. Any character that appears I immediately view as a possible suspect.

Of course, while that thought process makes it a little more difficult when reading, it helps me avoid being irritated when the resolution of a book includes a character who came totally out of the blue. Where Wendy Walker's crazy, twisty, yet surprisingly weighty new book, Emma in the Night, was concerned, I may not have been ultimately surprised by everything, but Walker took me on quite a journey to get there, full of surprises and twists which kept me guessing.

One night, 15-year-old Cassandra Tanner and her older sister Emma disappeared. Emma's car was found on a beach, but there was never any trace of the girls. FBI forensic psychologist Abby Winter suspected there was more to the girls' disappearance that met the eye, but she couldn't convince her supervisors, and the case nearly destroyed her. But three years later, Cass has returned home without Emma, but she pleads desperately that they rescue her sister.

Cass' story is a harrowing one, of being kept captive on a remote island with Emma. She sacrificed a lot to get home, and is afraid her sister might not still be on the island, or even be alive once the FBI figures out where they've been held captive. Cass' return has also thrown her divorced parents into turmoil, as they are happy that Cass is back but they fear for Emma's safety, and they want to understand what happened to the girls three years ago.

But the more Cass tells, the more Abby wonders what the truth is. Her initial suspicions about all not being right in the household where the girls grew up returns with a vengeance, and Abby wonders what Cass is hiding, and whether she's trying to lead them somewhere, to someone, but is unable to say anything directly. These issues of narcissistic personality disorder are ones that Abby knows too well, and she wonders if her suspicions are true, or if she is being influenced by her own experiences.

"Not knowing, not seeing, being deceived—it makes you question everything you have come to trust. It makes you doubt your own judgment, and the truths you have come to believe in, which sometimes are so deeply embedded, you don't even know they're there, shaping your thoughts."

What happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared? Where is Emma now? Was their disappearance random, or was it caused by, or the result of, something else in their lives? Is Cass hiding something? Time is running out, and the FBI must figure out the truth and bring Emma home before it's too late.

I liked Emma in the Night more than I thought I would. There was a brief period a little more than a quarter into the book where I worried one of the characters would be such a huge part of the plot that I didn't think I could stand it, but I persevered, and I'm glad I did. This is a book that isn't afraid to paint its characters as not entirely sympathetic, and you're not sure what to believe and you don't know which character to root for.

Walker does a great job unraveling the plot little by little, and while some of it seemed a little too predictable, there was still enough that kept me guessing. I've never read anything by her before, but I was impressed not only with the way she generated suspense, but the in-depth attention she paid to the depiction of narcissistic personality disorder. That is something that unfortunately I've experienced, and she was right on the money with that.

This wasn't a perfect book by any means, but I enjoyed it and couldn't stop reading. Definitely a good book for a last gasp at the beach, or to occupy you during a long trip or commute. I'll definitely need to read Walker's first book now!

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