Skip to main content

Gone Tonight


Gone Tonight

Sarah Pekkanen, the bestselling co-author (with Greer Hendricks) of THE WIFE BETWEEN US and THE GOLDEN COUPLE, returns with GONE TONIGHT, her first solo venture since 2018’s THE EVER AFTER. This taut, intricately plotted novel of mothers, daughters, and the complicated layers of love and violence in between is the thriller that many readers no doubt have been waiting for.

Catherine Sterling and her mother, Ruth, have never spent more than a few nights away from one another in the 24 years that Catherine has been alive. As a single mother and only child, they are intensely bound, perfectly compatible and, okay, maybe a little codependent. But after years of hard work and tough schooling, Catherine has just graduated magna cum laude and is ready to move to Baltimore, where she will begin working at Johns Hopkins Hospital and start a life all her own. There’s just one wrench in her plan: her vibrant, methodical mother has begun to slip.

"It is rare that I am without words, but when it comes to this novel, all I can say is: Wow.... The juxtaposition of chilling and heartwarming is startling and intense, and it is easily the best thriller I’ve read all year."

Ruth was a teenage mother and is only 42, but one instance of lost keys has turned into several, and lately she has been forgetting even simple terms like “ice cubes” (or “water squares”), failing to unplug appliances or even turn them off, and getting lost on her way home from the diner where she has worked every day for years. Catherine works in the memory wing of a nursing care facility and knows the signs. But it is not until Ruth reveals that her own mother died young of early onset Alzheimer’s that Catherine’s most terrifying suspicions cross the line into painful truths. Ruth is dying, and after everything she has sacrificed for her daughter, it is up to Catherine to care for her.

The revelation that Ruth’s mother carried the gene for Alzheimer’s is more than a bit of a shock as Ruth has long been estranged from any and all relatives. Her parents, she has explained to Catherine, were devout Catholics who disowned her when she became pregnant as a teen. Ever since then, it has been just the two of them, scrambling to make ends meet, sharing twin beds and inventing their own impenetrable world where they are each the sole owners of one another’s memories, preferences and spirits. So how is it that Catherine, well trained in the symptoms of memory failure, has missed so many of Ruth’s symptoms? And how is it that Ruth has never slipped up at work yet is demonstrating textbook --- literally, textbook --- symptoms at home now that the time for Catherine’s departure has arrived?

Alternating between Catherine’s and Ruth’s perspectives, Pekkanen reveals that Ruth’s crushing diagnosis isn’t exactly accurate. While it’s true that Ruth is estranged from her relatives and hometown, the reason she has given her daughter is not true. Ruth seems to suspect that her past is coming for her, and she has begun making plans to protect her daughter from ever discovering the truth. Part of those plans involve writing the true history of her life in a battered green notebook she has carried with her since she was a teenager, but has never written in until now. With her past racing towards her, the clock is ticking, and penning her story before it is too late is crucial to her daughter’s survival. The story of Ruth’s life as revealed in those pages forms one-half of GONE TONIGHT, and the secrets there are mind-blowing, devastating and life-changing. But it is Catherine’s storyline that delivers the real shocks.

In present day, Catherine, a near fortune-teller of her mother’s moods, thoughts and next steps, believes that something is not right. She has always known that Ruth was secretive, but what single mother wouldn’t be? Doubling as both parents is hard, footing all the bills is harder, and even though Catherine is not a parent, she knows that some truths about life as a disowned teenage mother are not for any child’s ears. But she is an adult herself now and is about to start her life, her real life, one that doesn’t involve a secret language with her mother and a nonexistent social life. So why is Ruth trying to manipulate her now, and what is she really hiding?

As Pekkanen alternates between each woman’s storyline --- chronicling both the events that caused Ruth to flee with Catherine and Catherine’s investigation into Ruth’s past --- she weaves a wickedly suspenseful story of a mother hellbent on protecting her daughter, a daughter equally driven to finally know her mother, and a simmering violence lurking in the hidden corners of their relationship.

It is rare that I am without words, but when it comes to this novel, all I can say is: Wow. Whereas years of collaborating with a fellow writer may have turned other authors lazy or uninspired, Pekkanen’s books with Greer Hendricks seem only to have fine-tuned her work and amplified her talents. GONE TONIGHT is all the best of Pekkanen’s last few collaborations --- jaw-dropping twists, unreliable narrators and dysfunction you can’t look away from --- paired with a breathtaking, emotionally resonant mother-daughter storyline. The juxtaposition of chilling and heartwarming is startling and intense, and it is easily the best thriller I’ve read all year.

In an oversaturated market where even the best authors seem to be phoning it in, Pekkanen is here to remind her readers that thrills can still be shocking, twists can still be unexpected, and reading can still keep you up way past your bedtime. This is the thriller I’ve been waiting for.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 4, 2023

Gone Tonight
by Sarah Pekkanen