At multiple points in the first half of Chevy Stevens’ That Night, I found myself wishing the story would get to the night in question already and maybe get this novel moving forward.
Instead, the story of the falsely accused and convicted Toni Murphy and her boyfriend kept churning on and on, giving the reader details that didn’t matter much in the question of who killed her sister and why or much in the way of character development for Toni. Early on, I got that Toni was a rebel, misunderstood by her parents and the system. I got that Toni faced bullies all her life and I suppose much of the character arc that Stevens is trying to lay out for Toni and the reader is her slowly realizing that she’s going to have to stand up for herself or else be downtrodden her entire life. Of course, it takes being falsely accused and convicted of her sister’s murder and going to prison for Toni to become self-reliant and a “bad ass.”
It’s a shame really because the hook of this novel and the first few chapters are interesting enough. Early on, Toni is an intriguing narrator for the events unfolding (chapters alternate between the events leading up to Toni’s conviction and events is sent to prison). But my patience for her quickly began to wear thin by the time we get to her third or fourth conflict with her parents who “just don’t understand her” and how she can’t wait to get out from under their roof so she can move in her boyfriend.
Along the way, she alienates her family, including her younger sister who is harboring some secrets as well. These secrets prove instrumental in solving the case once and for all and really determining what happened that night her sister was killed. The sister in question wanted to tag along with Toni and her boyfriend on a date up to the lake. Toni reluctantly agrees, but once there Toni and her boyfriend go off to smoke weed and make out under the stars, leaving the sister alone. When they come back a few hours later, the sister is dead and the prime suspects are Toni and the boyfriend.
And yet for all the hope I had that getting to the night in question would finally kick-start this novel, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the story and Stevens’ storytelling decisions. While I can see that the high school group of mean girls would be able to pull of bullying Toni and her sister in school, the steps they take to ensure Toni and her boyfriend are sent up the river become increasingly over the top and absurd. It’s hard to believe that everyone buys them — though to be honest it’s not like Toni has worked hard to earn anyone’s faith at this point.
Just when I was at my breaking point with this one, I realized that I was two-thirds of the way through so I might as well stick around and see how it all comes out. And I did and, while I won’t give it away here, I can say that the solution isn’t necessarily worth the 300 or so pages I spent with this book. A mystery can have a slow burn, building up the characters and background until the deciding action is given to us on the printed page (it may not help this book that I went from reading it to the latest novel by Elizabeth George. George, quite frankly, runs rings around Stevens in terms of character, atmosphere, world building and a compelling mystery. But again, that could be because I’ve had a dozen or more books to get to know everyone in George’s universe and find it easier to maintain my relationship with them if they act like the north end of a south bound horse).
It’s too bad That Night failed to live up the promise of its first few pages and its premise. This one had a chance to be something interesting but instead turned out to be one of the more frustrating books I’ve read in quite some time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.