Sunday, July 22, 2018

Whistle in the Dark

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey
HarperCollins: 7/24/18
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062309716

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey is a highly recommended psychologically complex mystery.

Lana, the youngest daughter of Jen and Hugh Maddox, has just been found, bloody, bruised, and soaking wet after being missing for four days. Jen and fifteen-year-old Lana were taking a painting class in the country for a mother-daughter vacation when the teen went missing. Now Lana simple repeats to everyone who asks that she can't remember what happened to her. Lana, who is suffering from depression and full of teen angst, has been moody, difficult, and undergoing counseling after self-harming and a suicide attempt. So, was she abducted? How did she get hurt?

Jen needs to know the truth and begins to contemplate what happened before the vacation and reconstruct the events of the painting class. She begins her own desperate investigation into Lana's life, looking at her social media interactions, trying to find out what she is telling friends, looking through her sketchbooks, looking at the books in her room. Jen is full of anxiety about Lana, and her quest to find answers becomes an obsession.

Whistle in the Dark has created a quandary for me in terms of evaluating/rating it. On the one hand it is beautifully written literary novel that realistically explores in-depth the psychological reactions of a family and their interpersonal relationships in the midst of complex situation. Healey authentically captures the reactions of a truculent teen and a worried inquisitive, hyper-vigilant mother. The emotional turmoil roiling through the novel is exhausting, but compelling. The anxiety is palpable and oppressive. Both Jen and Lana are realistic, complicated characters and their relationship is thoroughly explored and examined through their interaction. The short chapters are all from Jen's point-of-view and vacillate back and forth in time.

On the other hand, early on in the novel I was quietly telling Jen (and the police) where to look for the answers. I was correct. If the central theme of the novel is the answer to the query "Where was Lana?" then it isn't a huge mystery because Healey provides the clues to answer the question early on in the novel. If the theme of the novel is the exploration and examination of the relationship between a troubled mentally ill teen and her mother, then it succeeded. However, it is rather slow moving in regards to both thematic questions.

Healey's Elizabeth is Missing was on my top ten novel of 2014, so I had high hopes (and high expectations) for Whistle in the Dark. The sheer excellence of the writing, the character development and the exploration complex psychological reactions met my expectations. The final resolution... not so much. Still it is a very good novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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