As Night Falls, Jenny Milchman’s latest thriller, takes place over the course of one harrowing day, a day when a prison break and the first snow storm of the year join forces to create the worst night of the Tremont family’s life.
Sandy and Ben Tremont live with Ivy, their teenage daughter, and Mac, their aging Husky mix, in a custom-built mountain home in the Adirondacks. Following an inheritance, Ben “had decided to build their dream house,” Milchman writes. “It was actually more Ben’s dream than hers; Sandy had been concerned about a new house being too showy for the neighbors, people in town, her patients. Sandy didn’t like to stand out.”
Despite her initial doubts about their new home, Sandy can hardly believe that the gorgeous house where she lives and the happy life she leads are her own. She is a part-time hospital psychologist, a profession she gravitated toward in the aftermath of a dysfunctional and traumatic childhood. But even as the novel opens, the reader can see the frayed edges of this seemingly charmed existence, one Sandy has forged out of distance from her difficult childhood and a little good luck, but also from what has ballooned into an adult lifetime filled with lies and half-truths about her past. Call it the coping mechanisms of a survivor, but the perceptive Ivy detects her mother’s dishonesty. “I don’t know when or why or what you’re lying about, Mom,” the teen erupts. “I just know that you are!”
Meanwhile, in a nearby town, a work crew of prisoners is enjoying a hard-won job “on the outs,” positioning traffic cones in preparation for a repaving project. Prisoners working on the project were carefully chosen based on good behavior—and earning that reward wasn’t easy for Nick, serving a forty-year sentence for a grisly crime: “To everyone else, Nick probably seemed like just another jailhouse convert, finally come to see the light and the error of his ways. In fact, the good behavior had nearly killed him—holding himself in check whenever anybody crossed him or tried to piss him off. Nick had earned every oxygen-rich breath he took out here.” Despite the fact that there hadn’t been a successful prison break since 1961, Nick has a plan. And with the help of Harlan, a hulk of a man—gentle in nature but with the loyal nature of an attack dog—the plan is a success.
The two hijack an SUV and head out for the location that Nick has chosen ahead of time—the Tremonts’ gorgeous mountain home on Long Hill Road. The primary reason for the stop seems to be for Nick and Harlan to get gear and a mapped-out route north from Ben, a professional outdoor expedition guide. But it quickly becomes clear that the Tremonts are being targeted for more personal—and sinister—reasons as well.
As Night Falls is Milchman’s third thriller, all of which are set in her home state of New York. She trades in psychological suspense, specifically the “what ifs?” that arise when bad things happen to people astute enough to wonder what they might have done to prevent them. While it might be too late for Sandy Tremont to prevent the wolves from reaching her family’s door, perhaps she can use her unwelcome re-acquaintance with the past to save them all.
Kathryn Justice Leache is a freelance writer who lives with her family in her hometown of Memphis. Her life among books has included work as a librarian and stints as a bookseller at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and The Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis.