Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m starting to think I’m over the whole unlikeable/unreliable narrator thing. I love an intelligent psychological thriller, particularly when the focus is on complex characters and this definitely fits the bill. However, while there were elements that I found fascinating it lacked the tension and emotion it needed to really draw me in. I found it difficult to like, or unfortunately care, about any of the characters and as a result the whole thing left me cold and struggling to focus on the narrative.
The story starts incredibly well with 18 year old Cass, approaching her family home. She and her elder sister Emma both disappeared on the same night three years ago and despite an extensive investigation and search at the time all hope of finding them was abandoned. Cass claims to have escaped from an Island where she and her sister were held prisoner (and her sister still is) but there are more than a few question marks over her story and it soon becomes clear that this is a family with secrets.
The narrative is told from the point of view of both Cass and Dr Abby Winter, a psychologist with the FBI who has been involved with the investigation since the original disappearance. This dual perspective brings a nice balance to the story as we get both “the victim’s” story and an insight into the investigation and evidence. Cass’s narrative jumps back and forth in time from the present day and her return to her time on the island and the events preceding their disappearance.
The complex relationships between Cass and her family make for fascinating if at times confusing reading. Dr Winter suspects her mother of being a narcissist and Cass’s story of her childhood certainly seem to support this. Everything is about her. She has to be viewed as the most attractive, the most powerful and the best mother and god help anyone who threatens that. She is definitely a complex, unpredictable and for that reason engaging character.
Cass is difficult to read. It’s clear from the beginning that she’s pursuing her own agenda (the narrative is very open about this) but it’s difficult to know what that is. Is she trying to be part of the family again, desperately trying to save her sister or could her motives be darker? She comes across as cold and calculating a lot of the time and despite the neglect she clearly suffered I found it difficult to get behind her. I found myself a little detached from her story. It was interesting to read and I was curious about what had happened and what she had planned but it didn’t grip me and there were occasions where I felt like I could quite easily put it down and walk away.
Dr Abby Winter unfortunately wasn’t any more engaging as a narrator. She was involved in the initial investigation into the girl’s disappearance and has been troubled by the case ever since as she recognized the mother for what she was and suspected some kind of involvement. We get some information on her past and the similarities between her upbringing and Cass’s but again while I found it interesting I didn’t really feel it.
I thought the pacing of the story was a little bit on the slow side and the plot was fairly predictable. I found my attention wandering in places which, when you have a story that jumps between two narrators and various time periods, meant I did end up having to re read pages because I’d no idea what was happening or where I was.
It is a well thought out story and I thought building in all of the information around narcissistic personality disorder and the impact on the children was incredibly well done, it does make you wonder if Cass could maybe also be suffering from some kind of mental illness. I just wish I could have connected with or found one character I liked and could get behind.
I do however think I’ve become a little tired of the whole unreliable narrator thing in thrillers (not that I was overly keen on it to begin with) so there is a strong possibility it’s just me. If they are your thing you might find you absolutely love it.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a review. As always all views are my own.
Emma in the Night is due for publication on the 8th August.
3 thoughts on “ARC Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker”
Excellent review! I’m kind of glad I didn’t request this one now because I’ve been feeling similar about my thrillers lately… Emma In The Night sounds interesting enough, but the unreliable narrator element does get a bit old.
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I’ve never been massively keen on the unreliable narrator thing as it makes it difficult for me to connect to the story. It can be great if a character is really fascinating or evil but I’ve not come across many like that.
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[…] All of the books I’ve finished were great but I have to say that The Marriage Pact and We Were Liars were definitely the highlights. I did love This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet, Schwab is one of my favourite authors, but I’d come across some spoilers for the series so it wasted it a little for me (although I still gave both books 4 stars). Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker was also a really good read but I felt like it lost a little of the tension in the middle making it more of a 3 star read. You can read my full review here. […]