In her second novel Elizabeth is Missing author Emma Healey casts her forensic eye on a family dynamic put under strain.
How do you rescue someone who has already been found?
Jen’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing for four agonizing days. When Lana is found, unharmed, in the middle of the desolate countryside, everyone thinks the worst is over. But Lana refuses to tell anyone what happened, and the police think the case is closed. The once-happy, loving family returns to London, where things start to fall apart. Lana begins acting strangely: refusing to go to school, and sleeping with the light on.
With her daughter increasingly becoming a stranger, Jen is sure the answer lies in those four missing days. But will Lana ever reveal what happened?
Whistle in the Dark looks at a family reunited after a traumatic separation. They’re no longer able to function as they once did, perhaps understandably so, and especially for as long as the mystery of what happened in those missing days goes unresolved.
Getting to the bottom of things is a twisty, often tortuous task but something which Jen takes upon herself. While her husband Hugh favours an altogether more relaxed approach, Jen is dogged and extreme in some of the lengths to which she’ll go. These include stalking Lana on Instagram, overanalysing comments made, and even following her in real life.
I grudgingly admired her for her terrier-like attitude and refusal to give up trying to unearth what happened, while questioning Jen’s behaviour throughout the book, which is often desperate, sometimes verging on paranoid. She becomes obsessed, seemingly self-absorbed, and turns inward, analysing herself and her relationships with others along the way. To the extent where I wondered if it wasn’t Jen who was slowly losing her mind, and she who had more issues than her daughter.
While unpicking its own mystery, Whistle in the Dark explores anxiety and depression. It shows how these manifest themselves in the person suffering, as well as the effect on those closest to them. Jen’s attempts to solve the mystery and fix her daughter send her into a downward spiral of her own. And though Lana has issues even before she disappears, we now see how very isolated she is and how Jen grasps at tiny successes in her attempts to reach her daughter, those small moments of light in all the darkness.
Whistle in the Dark takes you into the fragmented, dark heart of a family, dealing with its demons behind closed doors. Here is the (real and imagined) fear and anxiety that comes with motherhood, the challenge of accepting you no longer have a child but a young adult in your house, of being that young adult with questions and few answers, and a family navigating its mental health issues.
This is a much darker novel than Emma Healey’s debut and one that’s less immediately engaging. Maud’s distinctive voice and her predicament captivated me far sooner in Elizabeth is Missing than Jen and Lana’s do here. It’s worth staying the course with this family though for when the payoff does come, it’s a revelatory experience. As the puzzle pieces slot into place in Whistle in the Dark, Emma Healey illuminates some dark corners of the mind with this sensitive portrayal of a family in crisis.
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey is published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is available as an audiobook and an ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. To find out more about Emma Healey and her books, you can visit her Author Website, her Facebook page, Instagram or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.