Whistle in the Dark – Emma Healey

whistle in the dark

two star

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Knopf Canada

Emma Healey follows the success of her #1 internationally bestselling debut novel Elizabeth Is Missing , winner of the Costa First Novel Award, with this beautiful, thought-provoking, and psychologically complex tale that affirms her status as one of the most inventive and original literary novelists today.

Jen and Hugh Maddox have just survived every parent’s worst nightmare. Relieved, but still terrified, they sit by the hospital bedside of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lana, who was found bloodied, bruised, and disoriented after going missing for four days during a mother-daughter vacation in the country. As Lana lies mute in the bed, unwilling or unable to articulate what happened to her during that period, the national media speculates wildly and Jen and Hugh try to answer many questions.
Where was Lana? How did she get hurt? Was the teenage boy who befriended her involved? How did she survive outside for all those days? Even when she returns to the family home and her school routine, Lana only provides the same frustrating answer over and over: “I can’t remember.”
For years, Jen had tried to soothe the depressive demons plaguing her younger child, and had always dreaded the worst. Now she has hope–the family has gone through hell and come out the other side. But Jen cannot let go of her need to find the truth. Without telling Hugh or their pregnan older daughter Meg, Jen sets off to retrace Lana’s steps, a journey that will lead her to a deeper understanding of her youngest daughter, her family, and herself.
A wry, poignant, and masterfully drawn story that explores the bonds and duress of family life, the pain of mental illness, and the fraught yet enduring connection between mothers and daughters, Whistle in the Dark is a story of guilt, fear, hope, and love that explores what it means to lose and find ourselves and those we love.

Whistle in the Dark is a slow burning mystery where the mystery is an afterthought. The synopsis of this book intrigued me, which is why I requested it on Netgalley. Unfortunately, Whistle in the Dark is an incredibly slow moving, boring mystery that doesn’t deliver.

Whistle in the Dark focuses on Jen as she tries to help her daughter, Lana, recover from being lost in the woods for four days. Jen becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to her daughter. As the novel progresses, Jen becomes more and more paranoid and neurotic.

Healey focuses on Jen’s paranoid and neurotic thoughts and behaviors, but does little to create a worthwhile reading experience. Instead, the novel becomes a by the numbers story as Jen discovers a clue, obsesses over it, and repeats. At the same time, Healey’s portrayal of a dedicated and scared mother is well written. Jen does everything in her power to help her child, but always falls short. For this reason, it seems as if there are two different novels within Whistle in the Dark competing for space. One of the novels is a contemporary story about a mother’s desperate and frantic search for answers on how to help her teenage daughter suffering from depression. The other novel is a mystery about a mother’s despairing search for answers about her teenage daughter’s disappearance. I understand what Healey was attempting to accomplish, alas the execution was lacking.

The only reason I read the novel in its entirety was to find out what happened in those four missing days. Unfortunately, the reveal is lackluster and should have been obvious from the first few chapters.

***I received an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review.

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