Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

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☆☆➹⁀☆4.5 stars☆➹⁀☆☆

 

What it’s about:

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.

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My Thoughts:

Filled with sibling rivalry and dysfunctional family dynamics that border on sociopathic, Emma In The Night is a gripping psychological thriller. The layered fabrications and misdirection are mystifying.  The Martin family’s secrets are many, and their slow reveal make each of them more shocking.

Author Wendy Walker tells Emma and Cassandra’s story in both the past and present using two main narrators—Cassandra and Dr. Abby Winters, the FBI forensic psychologist assigned to the case.  Both Cassandra (Cass) and Abby have some emotional baggage that colors their perspectives, however, it is only Cass’ narration that feels unreliable.  Cass’ narration is in first person, and Abby’s is more of a third person narrative.  Fittingly, Abby’s narration felt clinic and more analytical.

Instead of the usual thriller about finding missing children, Emma in the Night begins with the return of one of the girls.  The creative story layout toggles between Cass telling investigators and her family about where she and Emma have been for the past three years and the family members revealing secrets and sordid details of their family life leading up to the girls’ disappearance.  Because some scenes are presented by Cass and then analyzed by Abby and her co-worker, Leo, there is, at times, a sense of repetitiveness or redundancy that many times didn’t add much to the story.

To discuss the plot would ruin the story, so I’ll just focus on the characters.  Emma and Cassandra seemed close and supportive, and their disagreements and friction sometimes felt real and at other times felt contrived as a way of manipulating their manipulative and delusional mother.  It was hard to decide if the closeness was real because I didn’t trust Cass’ perspective.  I loved their half-brother, Wit.  He was calm and reliable.  His perspective helps keep Abby focused on her hunches.  All three of the adults in Cass and Emma’s lives are terrible in their own ways.  Owen Tanner, their biological dad, is loving but lacks sufficient fortitude to be the parental presence the girls need.  Judy, aka Mrs. Martin, is the girls’ mother, and her mental illness and emotional instability is mind-boggling.  The character could easily be the star of a Greek tragedy!  Her second husband and stepson are not as disturbing yet they are equally unlikable.  All four are reprehensible antagonists in this psychological thriller.

I found the audiobook engrossing and easy to follow.  Sometimes it is difficult to follow an audio version of a story when the perspective and timeline changes frequently, but I didn’t find this to be the case with Emma in the Night.  The clear chapter transitions and excellent narration made the complicated layout easy to follow.  Whether listening or reading, Emma in the Night is a riveting page-turner!

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