The Night of the Storm
Grade : B

The mystery/suspense market tends to skew white, so I was excited to see this debut by an author of color. The Night of the Storm is a tale of family, betrayal, and the importance of listening to weather alerts.

A recent transplant from Chicago to Houston, single mom Jia Shah is in no way ready for her first major storm. She hasn’t even stocked up on bottled water! But when Hurricane Harvey decides to drop in for a visit, she has no choice but to start making some hard decisions. Harvey didn’t exactly pick the best time to stop by - her ex-husband has decided to reevaluate their custody agreement, and Jia, already struggling to make ends meet, isn’t sure where the funds will come from to wage this latest legal battle. Naturally, this is the moment her twelve-year-old son, Ishaan “chooses” to get suspended from school for fighting. Given that, Jia believes if she doesn’t make good decisions on how to handle this crisis, she may be deemed unfit and lose her son.

Her initial plan is for the two of them to wait out the bad weather in their home, but lo and behold, no sooner does she secure the necessary supplies than her apartment complex is placed under a mandatory evacuation order. Jia has no choice but to head to her sister Seema’s house just twenty minutes away. It’s not an ideal situation. Seema’s husband, Vipul, has taken to dropping by Jia’s place, ostensibly to help her and Ishaan, but his visits have taken on an undercurrent that has her deeply worried. Jia has no options left, however, since she has waited too long to leave town. She reluctantly heads to the multi-million-dollar mansion in Sugarland where her family is holed up.

It’s a full house. In addition to the regular residents (Seema and her husband, Grandma (Seema’s mother-in-law), and Seema’s daughter Asha), Vipul’s brother Raj and his (white) wife Lisa are also waiting out the squall there. It comes as a shock to most of them when they learn that the neighborhood is under a mandatory evacuation. Vipul and Seema had made it sound safe simply because Vipul refuses to leave. Only one other house in the area is occupied - the neighbor that Vipul has a beef with is also choosing to stand his ground rather than leaving his home to possible looters. Jia is far more concerned about the rising waters gushing down the street than vandals. Vipul and Seema live on a hill, but will that really keep them from being caught by flooding?

When an unexpected guest joins their party, the already tense atmosphere becomes nearly unbearable. And then people start dying, and Jia realizes that she just might have been safer trying to outrun the storm than she is sheltering from it in that house.

The mystery here is caused by and secondary to the family dynamics. And this is one messed up family. To Jia, our viewpoint character, most of the ills in her world are caused by Indian men. According to her:

“The British set up the first railway track, paving the way for modern transportation, but they turned a blind eye to the nation’s social ills and failed to modernize the fabric of the country they ruled for a hundred years. The southern and northern parts of the country each had their own flavors of this injustice. Whereas a North Indian woman came home after an eight-hour shift and proceeded to whip out rotis like a machine, the woman in South India woke up before everyone else to serve rice crepes for breakfast.”

Jia complains that:

“A country whose citizens ardently worshipped a thousand goddesses and elected a female prime minister in the 80s had collectively decided that not being born would always be a more appealing option than being born female.”

These attitudes, in Jia’s mind, are why she, as a divorced woman, is not a valued part of the Indian community, and her sister, who has born only one girl child in a ten-year marriage, is despised by Grandma.

In fairness, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike Seema and Jia. Jia, after upending her child’s life, is quick to accuse and verbally abuse him for every imagined slight he commits. She has sole custody and refuses any contact between Ishaan and her ex-husband Dev, thus cutting off a loving relationship between father and son with almost no warning and with absolutely no explanation. She has also refused to listen to Ishaan regarding any of the issues he is facing. Jia insists she loves him, but her behavior in no way indicates that.

We also spend the bulk of the text hearing what a great guy Dev is - an ever-present and engaged father, the kind of man who took care of all the maintenance for his wife’s car, cleaned snow from the driveway before heading to work, was funny and kind - but being kept in the dark as to just why Jia divorced him. When we finally learn what happened, it is pretty horrifying, but what is even more horrifying is that Jia cares only about herself in the aftermath. She doesn’t report the crime, nor does she take responsibility for her part in it, and in the end, overturns the one choice she had made to punish the perpetrator. That is to become a pattern for her.

Seema is shallow and selfish. Vipul is wealthy but old and ugly, and Seema happily spends his money while despising him. When we learn the full extent of what is happening with her, it is as horrifying as we have learned about Jia. This makes the ending, where Jia essentially colludes with Grandma and Raj to help Seema - since Asha allegedly needs her mother - both unbelievable and appalling.

To be clear, Seema and Jia are not the kind of wicked interesting that is the hallmark of today’s suspense market. They are petty, somewhat dim, and completely self-absorbed. But while I didn’t like them, I was impressed with the mystery. The writing is amazing, and Ms. Parekh does a lovely job of creating a well-paced, atmospheric locked-room thriller. The personalities of all the characters mesh feverishly together to set up the perfect storm that becomes their lives as they seek refuge from the wind and rain destroying the world outside their oasis. All the little pieces of past hurts and current tensions are skillfully woven into a tapestry that is taut, suspenseful, and believable. That these things all happen in this family is totally understandable - everyone but the children are deeply flawed, and it seems almost inevitable that this would be the result of the adults being forced to isolate as a group.

The outstanding mystery and intriguing look at how culture plays into human dynamics make The Night of the Storm worth a limited recommendation. The irritating leads can make it a slog to get through at times, and the ending is a tad difficult to accept, but if you can manage that, readers who like suspense stories centered around dysfunctional families should enjoy it.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : B
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : February 3, 2024

Publication Date: 01/2024

Review Tags: AoC PoC

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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