That Night by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s Press, June 17th, 2014)-1996 was a pivotal year for 18 year old Toni Murphy. It’s the year she realized she wanted to be with her boyfriend Ryan forever, and got her first job, and those are bright moments, even alongside the tension that exists between Toni and her mom. Even if her former friend, Shauna, and her pack of mean girl cronies are determined to make Toni’s life miserable, she’s equally determined not to let it dictate how she lives her life, or affect her happiness. Soon, she plans to move in with Ryan, and after that, none of that will matter. Unfortunately, Toni watches helplessly as her younger (and usually much better behaved) sister Nicole, starts to sneak out on a regular basis and hang out with Shauna and her gang. Toni and Nicole’s relationship had never been perfect, but it was never more than normal sibling rivalry, until now. Nicole has been joining in with Shauna’s cruel campaign to make Toni’s life a living hell, and it’s obvious something serious is going on with Nicole, but she’s keeping quiet. One night, Nicole seems to reach out to Toni for forgiveness, and asks to come along with Toni and Ryan on a night trip to the lake. Toni has reservations, but takes her along. It turns out to be the worst decision Toni has ever made, for that’s the night that Toni and Ryan, after leaving Nicole alone to steal an intimate moment, find her dead body, illuminated in the headlights of Ryan’s truck. It’s obvious that her death wasn’t natural, and Toni and her family are devastated. Toni has no idea who’s responsible, but vows to do everything she can to find out the truth. When Toni and Ryan are eventually accused of Nicole’s death, all Toni can do is watch helplessly as witnesses lie on the stand, and she and Ryan are convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
I can’t even imagine the horror of someone I love being murdered, then being accused and convicted of it, but Chevy Stevens effectively captures Toni’s journey from hopeful 18 year old in love to 34 year old parolee. The narrative goes back and forth from Nicole’s 1996 death and Toni’s 1998 conviction and experiences in prison, to the present, as she acclimates herself to life on the outside and all that comes with getting her life back after 15 years in a cell. She’s long since lost touch with Ryan, having decided that it hurt too much to keep in touch with him while on the inside, and her relationship with her parents is tenuous at best. Her father seems to have always thought Toni innocent, but things aren’t quite as black and white for her mom. Being on the outside is tough, but she’s determined to make it work, and of course, to never go back to jail. When Ryan approaches her with the possibility that they could prove their innocence, she’s skeptical, but then things start to happen, things that make her believe that maybe, just maybe, it would be possible to get her life back, and be truly free.
This is my first Chevy Stevens novel, and she sucked me in from the first page, when Toni is being marched into the Rockland Penitentiary in Vancouver for the very first time. Toni and her family aren’t a particularly unusual family, and in fact, readers will surely see something of themselves in Toni or Nicole, and if you’re a parent, Toni’s struggles with her mother, and in finding her own identity, might resonate. However, Shauna and her crew are nastier than most viper pits, and I’ll admit that my wish to see them taken down hard powered much of my page turning. Stevens is expert at creating tension in even the most mundane situations, and as Toni’s 15 year saga unfolds, and the secrets start to come fast and fierce, I was convinced I knew where the story was going. But I didn’t. And that’s pretty awesome, because I consider myself a fairly jaded reader. If a suspense writer can surprise me, I’m in, and That Night surprised me. I really, really enjoyed this book, and like I said, although this was my first book by Chevy Stevens, it definitely won’t be my last.