Great psychological thrillers work on two levels: as action-based mysteries and as emotionally resonant personal stories. Jenny Milchman balances both in As Night Falls, as slightly anxious counselor Sandy Tremont faces murderers on her doorstep and secrets from her past with equal intensity.
Milchman creates tension by putting Sandy, her outdoorsy husband Ben and moody teenager Ivy in a contained setting: a remote home in the midst of a heavy snowstorm. When two escaped convicts make their way to this mountain hideaway—and can’t leave because of the storm—the mounting concern for Sandy's family’s physical safety is mirrored by the secrets that threaten to spill from her own mind. The action never falters as criminal mastermind Nick and his frighteningly large but surprisingly tender sidekick, Harlan, cruelly abuse the family and their neighbors. Milchman uses the maze-like interior of Sandy’s home to facilitate chase scenes and to mirror the confusion that reigns in Sandy’s mind. As she runs from Nick, she gets closer to some awful truths about her childhood. Simultaneously, Milchman flashes back to Nick’s own childhood, which is perhaps more troubling than all of the violence he’s wreaked as an adult. The two stories come together in a surprising twist that changes not only the dynamic between Nick and his victims, but also between Sandy and Ivy, who must learn to trust each other if they are going to come out of this alive.
Milchman sometimes sacrifices character development for action, but the momentum keeps the pages turning. Though the events in As Night Falls happen in one night, it’s not a short book. You may not be able to finish it in one sitting, but you’ll want to.