Review of Emma in the Night, by Wendy Walker

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I’d considered reading Wendy Walker’s All is not Forgotten but the premise seemed just a trifle too gimmicky, but took a chance on Emma in the Night and am delighted I did, reading it almost non-stop in two days. The story is based on one of my very favorite plots. A child or adolescent goes missing and after a lapse of years (here three) reappears, but leaving many mysterious and unanswered questions as to what really happened. Here the story is told from two points of view, Cassie the teenager in 1st person after her return and Abby the FBI forensic psycholgist in 3rd person limited. Cassie has a story about how she and her pregnant sister Emma were held by a strange couple on an island off the Maine coast, and how Emma gave birth but her child was taken away by their captors. Cassie has escaped but is desperate to convince her family and the authorities that they must locate Emma. It would be a total understatement to call Cassie’s family dysfunctional: a family dynamicist could create a chart with dotted lines intersecting all over the place with underperformers. Artistically the book is flawed because it is obvious that Cassie is a very unreliable narrator but though the author gives us access to her consciousness she is clearly withholding a lot from the reader. And as we gradually discover what really is suposed to have happened, it seemed rather too complex to take place in real life. But Cassie is such an attractive narrator and proves to be a wonderfully brave, insightful, perceptive, and resourceful character that it is easy to suspend disbelief. I don’t think I’ve been so in awe of a teen main character since Beth in Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. I foresaw one principal twist but did not quite get the other one though it proved perfect when revealed and made sense of everything but in an unexpected way. So for total engagement, unrelenting suspense, and superb characterization, Emma in the Night was a splendid read.

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