A desperate phone-call in the middle of the night shatters so much more than the peace and tranquility of a family holiday in Gillian McAllister’s sixth novel That Night.
During a family holiday in Italy, you get an urgent call from your sister.
There’s been an accident: she hit a man with her car and he’s dead. She’s overcome with terror – fearing years in a foreign jail away from her child. She asks for your help. It wasn’t her fault, not really. She’d cover for you, so will you do the same for her?
But when the police come calling, the lies start. And you each begin to doubt your trust in one another.
A villa on the outskirts of Verona sounds like the perfect summer escape from the stresses of work. And for the three Plant siblings, Joe, Cathy and Frannie, together with Joe’s wife, Lydia, and Frannie’s young son, Paul, it has been exactly that until late one night when Frannie phones Joe and Cathy in a panic, begging them for help. They rush to find her on the roadside where she’s been involved in an accident, and, in doing so, their lives and relationships with one another will never be the same again.
What Joe and Cathy discover is a shocking and horrific scene involving their sister: it’s a situation which is then made a hundred times worse by what Frannie asks them to do for her. Gillian McAllister creates a huge moral dilemma for the elder brother and sister, one where every second they delay could count against them, taking them further away from ever being able to do the right thing. It fast becomes a nightmare scenario for everyone, including readers, because you can’t help but ask yourself what you would do for someone you love in the same or a similar situation. (Even when you’re a <fx:coughs/> lawyer and hope that you would do the right thing here.)
That Frannie chooses to call her brother and sister That Night instead of the emergency services is telling and Gillian McAllister exploits this sibling dynamic to the full in the book. The incredibly close-knit Plants seem to be a positive example of siblings who can work, rest and play together. Even when the accident puts them in the excruciating position of choosing between their sister’s future (and that of her young son) or doing the right thing, they manage to put on an initial display of strength and unity when they’re up against it – whether or not you agree with the action they take.
Any cracks in the relationships between the three siblings are exacerbated by what they’ve done, how that plays on their conscience (and this varies), the fact that they’re keeping it a secret from their loved ones, the fear of discovery and not knowing when that inevitability will come. Gillian McAllister also highlights that, no matter how strong the bond between siblings, with strength comes weakness, and where you have that, people tend to develop blind spots or others who will look to capitalise on that and exploit it. The tension doesn’t dissipate when they’re able to return home either. If anything, it’s only heightened because they feel unable to find out what’s happening back in Italy.
This is essentially a book about good people doing something unconscionable and having it play on their minds from the split-second moment they choose between right and wrong. (Although it has to be said that some find this so much harder than others do.) The characters experience the nightmare scenario of facing a very real moral dilemma and having to live with the excruciating choice they make. It makes you question what you would do, how far you would go to save someone you love, and whether you could live with that. Would your conscience allow it? It’s also a terrific look at the roles people play within their family and how that affects the way in which others see us, behave towards us and treat us. That Night will keep you up, reading late at night. (Here’s hoping your phone doesn’t ring.) Happy Reading!
That Night by Gillian McAllister is published by Penguin Michael Joseph and is available as an audiobook, ebook and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org, Hive and Waterstones. For more on Gillian McAllister and her books, visit her Author Website, Facebook Page or you can find her on Twitter.
Thanks to Sriya Varadharajan at the publisher for sending me a proof copy for review.