Book review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 Permalink

I read Wendy Walker’s All Is Not Forgotten just last year; and was intrigued by the plot as well as the book’s almost non-fictional structure. In fact, my niece was recently doing some University study about memories (being planted and / or removed) and this was one of the books I recalled when she talked about that.

Walker’s latest book (the weirdly named) Emma in the Night, is also cleverly constructed and plotted. And so effortlessly well written that I found myself marking paragraph after paragraph* because they seemed eloquently pivotal. Or something…

Book review: Emma in the Night by Wendy WalkerEmma in the Night
by Wendy Walker
Published by Harlequin MIRA, HQ Fiction
on November 20th 2017
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9780008263690
Pages: 382

When my sister and I disappeared three years ago, they found Emma’s car at the beach. 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.

Given the inclusion of Dr Abigail (Abby) Winter and focus in All is Not Forgotten on memories, PTSD and trauma I would have assumed Walker had a psych background herself. Which isn’t the case. Well, not formally. She’s a former family lawyer so I’m guessing had her share of f*cked-up families and dysfunctional dealings in her previous life.

This book is written from Cass’s point of view as well as that of Abby’s. And because we’re in Cass’s head we know she can’t be lying, when she talks about being held captive on an island and needing to find Emma. I’m the sort of person who’s naturally suspicious and admiring of authors who can cleverly hide stuff about the lead character so watch (obsessively) for any slips in language or phrasing which might give us a clue that our lead character is lying to us or others. Or lying by omission.

And yet Abby knows Cass is keeping something from them. That she seems to have an agenda. She believes Cass is telling the truth – at least partially – but thinks she has an end game but can only wait and watch it play out.

Abby’s interest in narcissism in families and narcissistic personality disorder is a bit left field. (Kinda like the focus on memory removal in Walker’s previous book). It’s complex and not as sexy as other, more outrageous psychopathies…  and it occurred to me that it’s a word / phrase or term we throw around quite wantonly, without giving its destructive nature much credence. But it’s another reminder that the sins of the father, or mother in this instance…. can be never be underestimated.

I really enjoyed Cass’s journey as she reflects on events from her childhood and subsequent realisations. She talks in the book about her ‘rude awakenings’ and I think there’s a lot to be learned from her evolution – such as understanding her father’s weaknesses and sister’s fallibility. Not to mention recognising how much she craved her mother’s love and acceptance, though knowing she’d never really have it.

I mentioned the strange title earlier and really only commented because the (verb-less) phrase doesn’t make sense. The focus does. This book is very much about Emma. The story of Emma and Cass and their mother is told by Cass and observed by Abby, with Emma at the centre.

It took me a long time to understand their relationship. I was always willing to pay the price for her love, whatever price she decided to set. But Emma knew something I didn’t. She knew that our mother needed our love as much as we needed hers, maybe even more. And she knew that if she threatened to take it away, to raise the price on her affection, our mother would be willing to negotiate. Back and forth, they made their trades, resetting the terms almost daily. And always looking for ways to improve their power at the bargaining table.

I became the outsider….

And so they were fierce competitors in their secret club, for each other’s love, for the love of everyone around them. And all I could do was watch from a distance, one short enough that I could see the escalation. Two nation-states in a constant battle for power and control. It was unsustainable. And so it continued, this war between my mother and my sister, until the night we were gone. p 14

I knew as soon as I started this book that I’d need to keep reading. Walker’s prose are ridiculously fluent. And fluid. Or something. There’s an effortlessness about them that had me mesmerised and they matched the twisty plot and complex and secretive characters – offering up the all-important trinity of ‘what makes a good book’. In, ummm… my book.

The night we disappeared haunted me. Every detail played over and over and over. Regret lived inside my body, eating me alive. I had thought about how to tell them, how to explain it….

A story is more than the recounting of events. The events are the sketch, the outline, but it is the colors and the landscape and the medium and the artist’s hand that make it what it is in the end.

I had to be a good artist. I had to find talent where none existed and tell this story in a way they would believe. I had to set aside my own feelings about the past. p 15

This is the second Harlequin Australia psychological thriller I’ve read this year that’s come as a huge surprise (along with Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda from a few months ago).

I note (according to Goodreads anyway!) Walker’s written a number of other books and if I wasn’t as apathetic and didn’t already have an overwhelming pile of reading I’d chase them down and plough through them. Instead I’ll probably just keep an eye out for her next one.

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker was published in Australia by Harlequin MIRA and is now available.

I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

* albeit on my iPad so really just temporarily highlighting them.


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