You know those writers whose work is so captivating that you’d read their grocery lists? Jennifer McMahon is definitely one of those writers for me. As one half of a pair of sisters, I’m also sucker for a book where sisters play a prominent role, so it’s likely “The Night Sister” would’ve ended up on my bedside table one way or another. If you enjoy mysteries that feature multiple timelines, numerous points of view and the setting of a deliciously creepy house (or in this case, hotel-as-castle), then this book might be for you as well.
“The Night Sister” begins in the present with sisters Piper and Margot receiving the shocking news that childhood friend Amy has brutally slain almost her entire family and herself, with only her daughter escaping. Then the novel turns back half a century to the childhood of Amy’s mother and aunt. Rose and Sylvie live in the Tower Motel, built like a castle complete with tower. Sylvie dreams of escaping to Hollywood and becoming an actress, while Rose is caught up in the stories their grandmother told them of mares, shape-shifting monsters hidden inside regular-seeming people.
The bridge between these two story lines is the summer of 1989, where Piper and Amy test their fledgling adolescence against the backdrop of the disused Tower Motel. Despite little-sister Margot tagging along behind Piper and future-police-officer Jason keeping watch over his crush Amy, the two enjoy sufficient freedom to learn enough about themselves — and the mysteries of the Tower Hotel — to change their friendship forever. But can Piper’s knowledge of the past help her piece together what really happened in the recent tragedy?
“The Night Sister” has the fast pace and plot twists I expect in psychological thrillers, as well as clean, vivid writing. Though there are more than a couple of characters, the straightforward delineation of dates and points of view make it easy to keep track of who’s who.
And luckily for me, there are still a couple Jennifer McMahon novels I haven’t read yet, so she won’t be hearing from me asking for her grocery list just yet.