Review: The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
Source: ARC courtesy of Random House of Canada via Goodreads First Reads. Thank you!
Expected publication: August 4, 2015 by Doubleday
Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.
Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.
While I have become more familiar with historical mysteries/thrillers over the last few years, I appreciate and enjoy sinking into any genre of well-crafted mystery/suspense: a story with intriguing characters, sharp tension, a smooth narrative arc, and some surprises thrown in the mix. The Night Sister hits all of those marks, adding in paranormal/monster mythology, making for well done and reader-friendly mystery.
McMahon’s new mystery centers around the friendship between the now-grown-up characters Amy, Margot and Piper, and what happened that one summer in their teens when they found a suitcase belonging to Amy’s long-missing Aunt Sylvie. Going back and forth between past and present, and from various vantage points, readers are taken back to Sylvie and Rose’s childhood, the boom of the Tower Motel, Sylvie’s one-sided correspondence with Alfred Hitchcock, and the discoveries of family curses and nighttime monsters come to life.
The phantasmal element pervasive in the story was one that I was initially skeptical of: I wasn’t sure how McMahon was going to tie Sylvie and Rose’s strange history together with the present and the terrifying accusations against Amy. I must say, though, I think that it works out; some stretches the imagination are needed, sure, but McMahon writes fluidly, confidently, and keeps such an eerie and sinister atmosphere going that the monster folklore blends in well.
Overall, The Night Sister is a readable, absorbing and genuinely creepy mystery title. Once you get into the rhythm of the story’s alternating viewpoints and are introduced to all of the characters, the story just flies by. McMahon does a very good job of building the story’s friction, and in creating a few possibilities of who or what is behind the terror without throwing in too many red herrings. If you’re looking for a mystery/suspense with a paranormal angle, or enjoy the writing of Kimberly McCreight, Kelley Armstrong, Chevy Stevens, Mary Kubica, or even Kenneth Oppel’s Victor Frankenstein series (for the paranormal aspect), then The Night Sister might be for you. I would like to go back now and read some of McMahon’s mysteries to see how she’s crafted her earlier stories!
I received this book as an ARC from Random House of Canada via Goodreads First Reads. All opinions and comments are my own.