Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

Jen could only snatch a hug, a press of her cheek against Lana’s – soft and pale as a mushroom – while the paramedics slammed the ambulance doors and wheeled Lana into the hospital.

Whistle in the Dark cover

Lana has been missing for four days. First comes the relief of her being found safe, if battered and bruised, in the Derbyshire countryside, but as Lana and her family return home to London the need to know what happened to her daughter completely consumes Jen.

Jen’s husband thinks Lana needs space to come to terms with things on her own. Jen’s mother thinks Lana is acting out; a typical teenager. But Jen can’t let things lie; her daughter feels like a stranger, and the more questions she asks the less she feels she knows.

Will Lana ever reveal the truth?

**

Emma Healey’s first novel Elizabeth is Missing seemed to follow me around for months before I finally read it, and although the story was different from what I expected from the title, I enjoyed it very much, so I was glad to see Emma’s second novel available for review.

Whistle in the Dark is in some ways a difficult novel to classify. There is a mystery there, certainly, but upon finishing the book I found that although I was glad to have reached the resolution, the thing that will stay with me is the interplay of all the different members of the Maddox family in the months following Lana’s disappearance and return.

Our narrator is Jen, middle-aged, middle-class mum of two. Elder daughter Meg has already moved away from home and is building her own life, and fifteen-year-old Lana has been struggling for some time with her mental health. Jen and her husband Hugh are doing all they can to support her, but this latest incident makes Jen question everything; every parenting decision she has made, every conversation she has. Even seemingly throwaway interactions with strangers are taking on a new, and sometimes sinister, significance as Jen tries to figure out how she, and Lana, reached this point.

Although clearly imperfect, Jen’s determination to bring her daughter back to her, to understand Lana and how she is feeling, made me warm to her very much. Her relationship with her husband is full of comfortable affection and wry humour, and she is devoted to her children, even as she doubts her abilities as a mother at almost every turn. In Lana I could see echoes of my fifteen-year-old self; she is a believable character who demands empathy from the reader.

I found this novel to be extraordinarily touching, and Jen’s ‘stream-of-consciousness’ storytelling really transported me in to her frame of mind. Winning characters, an engaging plot and moments of real emotional connection make this a fantastic contemporary read.

‘…Where are you? Dad says you’re on your way.’
‘I am on my way.’
‘Good’, Lana said, ‘Because we need you.’

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