I’ve read (and listened to) a few of Jennifer McMahon’s books now and there are a few things I’ve come to expect: there will be a creepy kid or two, red herrings galore, and weird happenings. The Night Sister is no exception.
Piper is called back to her hometown of London, Vermont after her sister Margot tells her of the death of their old friend Amy. It was no ordinary death, but an apparent murder-suicide. There is one piece of evidence at the scene that mystifies the police, a photo with the words “29 rooms” written on it. Both Piper and Margot know the significance of those words.
Twenty-five years earlier, the girls discovered the mystery of the 29th room as they played in the dilapidated rooms of Amy’s grandmother’s motel. The Tower Motel was a busy venture in the days after the Second World War. The motel boasted 28 rooms, a pool, and a unique roadside attraction known as the Tower of London built by Amy’s grandfather as a tribute to his British War Bride. Then a highway was built. Tourists no longer stopped to stay overnight and the motel closed in the 1970s.
Amy’s family history contains more than the story of a failed business. There are secrets and stories of Amy’s missing Aunt Sylvia, the girl obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock and Hollywood, Amy’s mother Rose, who lived in her beautiful sister’s shadow, and their German grandmother who filled Rose’s head with stories of “mares” or shape shifting monsters who hunt at night.
In the present time, Margot is bedridden with a high risk pregnancy and married to Jake the local cop. Margot begs Piper to find out what really happened to Amy while keeping Jake in the dark.
The Night Sister shifts back and forth in time between Jake and Piper in the present and the 1980s, and Rose in the 1950s and 60s. There are also glimpses into Sylvia’s mind through her letters to Alfred Hitchcock. This is something Jennifer McMahon often does in her books.
I always like how she mixes the supernatural with the rational. Hints at something totally normal going on that an unstable character is not seeing. There could be a logical explanation for the weirdness, but will that be where the story goes? You have to keep reading to find out.
Yet again the characterization is excellent. Jake and Piper have an emotional/romantic history with Amy that makes them dig deeper into what happened to her. Jake was Amy's “friend with benefits” for a time and Amy was Piper’s first crush. Amy herself went from a manipulative troubled teen to a married mom with kids. Then there is Rose, deadbeat mom with a mysterious past. Where has she been? Why is she back in London? What happened between her and Sylvia all those decades ago?
Once I started listening to The Night Sister, I couldn’t turn it off. I needed to know what was going on at the Tower Motel. It’s more than a horror story. It’s about abandoned friendships and sisterly jealousies that shape the characters’ futures. I didn’t like it as much as I did The Winter People, I could see where things were going, but it was still entertaining. I do not know how McMahon’s books haven’t been made into movies yet. They’d give anything based on Stephen King a run for the money.
Sidenote: Loved the references to Guns n Roses and Love’s Baby Soft in the 1980s flashbacks. It took me right back.
About the Audio: Cassandra Campbell, prolific audiobook narrator, reads The Night Sister just as she did McMahon’s last book The Winter People. She is awesome as always. I can see why she does so many of these.
Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.