Title: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
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.
In Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker, fifteen year old Cass and seventeen year old Emma disappear from their dysfunctional home and three years later, only one of them returns. What happened that fateful night? Where have the Tanner sisters been for the past three years? And perhaps, most importantly of all, where is Emma?
Upon her return, Cass is more than willing to talk to FBI forensic psychologist Dr. Abby Winter and Special Agent Leo Strauss but only if her mother Judy Martin is present. Her explanation of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance is enthralling but she cannot provide more than a vague description of where they were held. She is quite desperate for the FBI to begin searching for Emma but is there more to the story than Cass is revealing?
When the girls first went missing, Abby is the only person who recognized the truth about Judy Martin. After the original investigation stalled, Abby must undergo therapy to put the case into perspective but she never doubts she was on the right track. With Cass’s unexpected return she and Leo are quickly reassigned to the case. While Cass’s account of their disappearance and the years they were gone is quite detailed and much of her explanation rings true, Abby is not certain they are getting the whole truth. Abby’s personal history raises questions about her impartiality in the case but these experiences also make her more sensitive to the subtle nuances in Cass’s behavior and the dynamics of the various relationships in the Tanner/Martin household.
Cass’s first-person narration offers a chilling and heartrending peek into the extremely unhealthy and toxic environment with their manipulative and self-absorbed mother. Her parents’ divorce and the ensuing custody battle resulted in a horrific rift between Cass and Judy and led to a breakdown in her relationship with Emma. Judy’s quick marriage to a divorced man with a teenage son whose troubling relationship with his new stepsisters also contributes to the increasingly tense atmosphere in the household. Over the years, the various relationships continue to deteriorate to a shocking degree.
Emma in the Night is a slow burner of a story that alternates between Cass and Abby’s points of view. Wendy Walker’s portrayal of Judy’s narcissistic behavior is a realistic depiction of a rare psychiatric disorder that results in incredibly dysfunctional and psychologically abusive relationships. The truth about what happened in the years leading up to Cass and Emma’s disappearance is extremely heartbreaking and given the circumstances, very easy to believe. With plenty of unexpected twists and turns, the novel wends its way to a fairly shocking yet completely satisfying conclusion.