Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker is a suspense thriller about two sisters, their mother and the cruel sickness that drove them. Three years ago the Tanner girls disappeared, but now, only one of them returns home. This is the story she tells.
“…When my sister and I disappeared three years ago, there was nothing but blindness.
They found Emma’s car at the beach. They found her purse inside, on the driver’s seat. They found the keys in the purse. They found her shoes in the surf. Some people believed she had gone there to find a party or meet a friend who never showed. They believed that she’d gone for a swim. They believed that she’d drowned. Maybe by accident. Maybe a suicide.
Everyone believed Emma was dead.
As for me, well-it was not as simple as that…”
Fifteen year old Cass and seventeen year old Emma Tanner disappeared in the dark of night and the police, the FBI and their own family could find no trace of them. But for forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Abby Winters, there was always far more to the story than the girls running away. The Martins, the girls’ mother having re-married after divorcing their father, were rich and the girls got the best of everything; clothes, schools, friends. There was no obvious reason for them to run away. But Abby could sense that there were secrets behind this perfect family. Secrets that revolved mostly around the girls’ mother, Judy Martin.
Now, three years after the girls disappeared, Cass Tanner is back. Abby knows this may be her last chance to learn the secrets behind what had happened. But the story Cass tells is outlandish. About an abduction, an island, and the deranged couple who kept Emma and Cass captive. And about the baby girl Emma had. The baby that she fled her home and hid from the family. The baby that Cass is determined to return to the island to get back.
Only will anyone believe her and is she to be believed. Or has she somehow slipped into a delusional state. What Abby will have to do now is sift the truth from the fantasy and in doing so expose the secrets of the Tanner girls and their mother, Judy Martin. But can she do it in time to save Emma?
“…We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet…”
Emma in the Night is one of those books that I am glad I listened to the audio version of rather than pick up the actual book. Because I don’t know if I could have made it through otherwise. it starts slow and slowly builds. It does build, but it does so slowly and there is a good chance it may lose some readers along the way and that is too bad. Because once this builds up speed it really takes off and you will not see the climax coming. It is not what is expected and one of the better twists I have read in a long time.
The basis of this tale is the mental illness of narcissism and more so, when the narcissist is a mother. How does her need for attention and adoration effect the children she gives birth to and to what length will she go to keep it. The book spends a lot of time explaining the condition and as such slows down during these times and Abby’s devotion to laying this at the root of the girls and their disappearance sidetracks the mystery at times. Which at its true root is what happened to Emma. But once the author has laid this foundation she returns to the mystery at hand hits the turbo button. We know that all of Cass’s story cannot be true, but which parts are and which parts aren’t. Even more, exactly what went on between Emma and her mother behind the closed doors of the Martin home. To which, how much was Cass a willing participant or simply an observer.
The kick to Emma in the Night is that none of the characters are the least bit likable or relatable. You may even come out of this one feeling that Emma got exactly what she deserved. Her mother and step-father and step-brother all will make your skin crawl. Her father is the poster child for a cuckold, even years after being dumped for a richer and stronger man. Dr. Abby Winters herself is in serious need of therapy and then there is Cass.
What is so cool about Cass is that you can never really figure her out. You cannot feel for her because you just don’t trust her. She wants for find her sister. But does she want to hurt her mother more?
A good book with an even better mystery when it gets to it.