Longtime readers of this blog might remember last year’s McMahon-binge. Do read that post for my
fangirling discussion of the appeal of her novels. McMahon’s latest, The Night Sister, has all the same twists and turns, intricate plotting, moody atmosphere and mounting tension of her other work. What sets it apart is the presence of monsters.
Like The Winter People, The Night Sister has overt supernatural elements. In her earlier books, there was always just a touch of that, a sort of glimmer around not-so-nice realities. All-too-human monsters hide behind magical facades. In this book, as with The Winter People, you’re not quite sure how real the supernatural elements are until pretty far into the story, which helps build the suspense.
This particular story centers on two sets of sisters a generation apart. In one past narrative, Piper and Margot and their friend Amy are growing up around the Tower Motel, once a big tourist spot in rural Vermont. By the time the three girls were kids, the Motel had fallen into serious disrepair. One summer they uncovered a nasty secret that blew their friendships apart. In the other past narrative, there’s another set of sisters, Sylvie and Rose, who grew up at the motel in the 1950’s, and who both have something to do with the mysterious secret of the motel, and of Amy’s background. The third narrative is set in the present, where Amy is accused of murdering her entire family, and Margot and Piper try to uncover the truth.
Secrets abound in this story, and the suspense comes from the desire to find out what’s really going on at the Tower Motel. As I mentioned, the paranormal is overt in The Night Sister, but it plays so well into the dark family story that it doesn’t feel too much like fantasy or horror. Rather, it’s a story about sisters and friendships and family secrets, and when you stop to think about it, the old-world monsters aren’t all that monstrous (though there is some deftly written well-placed gore).
But still, this is a compelling, darkly atmospheric tale, creepy and absorbing with well-crafted characters and relationships. If you like your monster stories with a fairy-tale kind of feel, give this a try.