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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Emma in the Night

by Wendy Walker
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Quick take

"I love an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller that feels authentic, current, and keeps you up way too late at night."


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.

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Why I love it

I love an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller that feels authentic, current, and keeps you up way too late at night. Throw in a little teenage angst, an unpredictable mystery, and unsettling family dysfunction, and I am IN.

Emma in the Night slams open with the reappearance of 18-year-old Cass Tanner, one of the two missing and previously presumed dead Tanner sisters, three years after they both vanished. But her homecoming is far from joyful. Cass’s return forces her entire family to look back on the time when she and Emma vanished, and the disturbing events that precipitated their disappearance.

The story is told through the alternating perspectives of the recovered Cass Tanner and forensic psychologist Dr. Abby Winter. Cass’s side of the story, a tale of captivity, a stolen baby, and an escape from a mysterious island, seems both more guarded and more calculated than a traumatized kidnapping victim’s account should be.

Dr. Abby Winter can’t help but notice the major holes in Cass’s story. As Abby becomes more and more skeptical, she also becomes more emotionally invested in finding the truth. As she delves deeper into the case, she glimpses similarities between the girl's mother and her own mother—and based on her personal experiences, begins to believe the dysfunction in the Tanner family may have intergenerational roots.

Dealing with themes of unconditional love, mental illness, incest, and revenge, Wendy Walker’s taut and fast-paced writing masterfully unveils the broken backstory behind an unhappy family. Each and every one of the characters is flawed, surprising, complex, and dynamic—so much so that their overarching story hits you at a gut level.

Emma in the Night starts with many unanswered questions that slowly resolve, ramping up to the biggest and final mystery: What really happened to Emma? Once you think you have the story figured out from Cass’s perspective, another idea or discovery from Winter changes your mind completely, keeping you reading and guessing until the final satisfying page.

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