The Night Before
The Night Before is the latest novel of psychological suspense from author Wendy Walker. It’s a dark and intense about two sisters and the complicated ways one of them attempts to come to terms with a long ago tragedy. The book is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a reader who loves visiting the darkest parts of the human psyche, this will be a book you won’t want to miss.
Laura Lochner is pretty sure she’ll never find true love. She’s always managing to fall for guys who are looking for quick flings instead of long-term, meaningful relationships. She longs for a stable marriage like the one her sister Rosie has, but nothing Laura does seems to put her in touch with the right man.
After a nasty breakup that leaves her emotionally devastated, Laura takes a leave of absence from her job in New York City and returns home to the small Connecticut town where she grew up, and where Rosie still lives with her husband and infant son. She’s hoping for a place to lick her wounds, but even more important, she’s hoping to lay the ghosts of a long ago tragedy to rest once and for all. Laura’s high school boyfriend died under extremely suspicious circumstances nearly fifteen years ago, and while Laura was never charged with his murder, there’s a part of her that wonders if she might have been responsible and blocked the events out of her mind. She’s recently undergone some psychotherapy, and she’s decided to try to remember what happened that fateful night in hopes of being able to let go of the numerous questions and half-baked suspicions that have haunted her for the past decade-and-a-half.
One afternoon, Laura logs on to a dating site, thinking she’ll just browse around for a few minutes, but when she runs across the profile of a man who sounds absolutely perfect for her, she decides to take a break from the hard emotional work she’s been doing and go out with him. Rosie, far more level-headed and responsible than Laura, is at first concerned for her sister’s safety, but Laura eventually convinces her everything will be fine.
The next morning, Rosie wakes up to find her sister’s bed hasn’t been slept in, and her mind is immediately filled with all the things that could possibly have gone wrong. She considers calling the police, but she’s afraid they’ll start asking questions about the death of Laura’s first boyfriend all those years before, and Rosie isn’t sure she wants to deal with all that. But as time passes with no sign of Laura, she is forced to accept the fact that something terrible might have befallen her sister.
We see things from the perspectives of both Laura and Rosie. Laura’s chapters focus on the night of the date, while Rosie recounts events following her sister’s disappearance. Each chapter heading contains a time and date stamp as well as the name of the narrator, so you’ll have no trouble keeping things straight as you read. The chapters are short, but not in a way that makes the writing feel choppy or chaotic.
Both sisters are well-developed characters, but Laura tended to get on my nerves at times. She’s constantly jumping to the wrong conclusions about the people around her and then getting angry when she realizes she has made a mistake. Ms. Walker does a decent job explaining why she behaves this way, but it still got old after a while. Rosie seemed to be on more of an even keel, so I didn’t find myself getting aggravated with her nearly as often.
I can’t say I was necessarily surprised by the big twist when it was revealed and I had actually figured it out a few pages earlier. Even so, there were certain aspects of the plot I absolutely did not see coming; Ms. Walker is skilled at dropping little, insignificant-seeming clues throughout the story, things you don’t think are important until much later, and I love this about her writing. It forces me to be a more observant reader rather than to just race through the book to learn the final outcome and actually pay attention to even the smallest details.
There is one really disturbing scene about three-quarters of the way through the story that completely turned my stomach. I can’t say more without spoiling things, but fortunately, this was the only graphic content I came across while reading.
The Night Before is not my favorite of Ms. Walker’s books. That honor still belongs to her début novel, but this is a solidly enjoyable thriller with a twisty plot that promises to appeal to most fans of the genre. I’m definitely glad I picked it up, and I’ll be on the lookout for more of the author’s work in the future.