Emma in the Night is a gripping psychological thriller about two girls who go missing and only one comes back. Cass and Emma both go missing from their home after a tempestuous summer- the family is pretty dysfunctional but things were really bad before they went missing- and after three years Cass turns up alive, and says she knows where Emma is. They just have to find her given the fragmentary information that Cass has. The story is told from two POV's- Cass and Abby, a forensic psychologist with the FBI. Cass tells her story as the same time as Abby tries to analyze what Cass is telling her, and put the pieces together.
Complicating matters are the family dynamics. The girls' mother Judy has narcissistic personality disorder, so this book is about personality disorders and family dynamics as much as it is about two missing girls. It's all intertwined. But it's very readable, I read this in two sittings because I just had to know. I preferred Abby's chapters frankly because of the adult perspective and her analytical approach- and to make matters even more interesting, Abby has her own family history of narcissism that she deals with- and this both informs and threatens to hamper her investigation. I thought Abby and her partner, Leo Strauss, were a high point of the story and very believable.
I've seen other reviews talk about just how dysfunctional this family is, and I have to agree. Not only is Judy very narcissistic, to the point where it affects everyone around her, but the girls have a stepfather who Judy married after cheating on their father, and a stepbrother as well. Everyone is competing for attention and to be top dog, and while I had a little bit of trouble believing everything that happened, it was still compelling. And a little scary. After all, how well do you really know someone?
Cass tells investigators that people believe what they want to believe, and that is a core theme of the book. Do people overlook things they don't want to see? Of course, and Cass' perspective is suspect because you know right away she's probably going to be an unreliable narrator. That's what made Abby's perspective so interesting- at times Abby feels almost like Cass is trying to tell her something or indicate something to her, without actually saying it. Can Abby keep up? Will she draw the right conclusions? It doesn't help that Abby still has unresolved issues left over from the initial investigation three years earlier, when the girls first disappeared. Her partner Leo and the Bureau were not entirely onboard with her theories of what happened, and things sort of died down when they were never found.
I went into this expecting a lot of Cass' story to be unreliable, so it was nice when elements of it were confirmed, making it even more curious as to who was telling the truth. I also tried to figure out the why of it but wasn't able to, there are lots of clues but you can't really get there until the end, when all the info is out. I enjoyed this a great deal, not only for the mystery but the look at narcissistic personality disorder, which I found very interesting. A great read.