I never thought of myself as a reader of thrillers, but lately I've been picking them up more and more often, and weirdly they've been working out for me. I think I requested Emma in the Night, by Wendy Walker, from Netgalley because I liked the title, and maybe the cover. And it was one of those many "girl comes back from her mysterious disappearance, but where has she been?" stories that seems so popular lately.
The funny thing is, the only way to make a story like that work is for there to be a decent amount of characters hiding information from the reader, which frequently drives me up the wall (see my opinions on Jodi Picoult). Secrets may be kept for a reason from other characters, but if you're inside a character's head and they're thinking about The Truth but not telling you what that truth is, well, that's cheap dramatics.
So it's a fine line to walk for me, this kind of psychological thriller where we're finding out what happened, rather than watching it happen. Emma in the Night, I'm pleased to say, walked that tightrope and kept me reading to the point where I finished it in a day, which is not a thing that I am known for.
Cass and Emma are sisters in a messed up family, and three years ago they disappeared on the same night. Now Cass is back home and begging her parents and the police and anyone who will listen to find Emma.
Abby Winters is the forensic psychologist who worked on the missing person's case three years ago, and she's never been able to shake it. She recognized that this family had some ugly secrets, but she was never able to dig them all out or convince her superiors that they were relevant to the disappearance. With Cass's return and the hunt for Emma, she can finally find out the truth.
What unfolds is told from two points of view. Cass's parts are in first person, and her careful, deliberate personality--the product of a lifetime spent jumping through the many hoops required in her family--means that we know full well that we're not being told everything. Every thought that Cass has is deliberate and specific, and we will follow the investigation with her, but the past will unfold when she's ready to tell it.
With Abby, though, we can follow the investigation and see how Cass's clues play out in the real world. I think the biggest flaw in the book, actually, was how Abby's psychological expertise was treated by those around her--the rest of law enforcement was very dismissive of her theories about the family, which seems like the opposite of my understanding of how any criminal investigation works; aren't the family the first set of suspects? Don't you bring in a forensic psychologist to listen to their opinions on the psychology of the parties involved?
I suspect that some of the psychology behind this is also a little loosey-goosey, but I don't expect much from a thriller. And I have barely put the book down all day, which is what you ask from this book, so in that respect, it's incredibly successful at what it's trying to do. Highly readable.