The Night of the Storm: A Novel

  • By Nishita Parekh
  • Dutton
  • 336 pp.
  • Reviewed by Eliza Nellums
  • February 20, 2024

It’s hard to pull off “a dark and stormy night,” but this debut nails it.

The Night of the Storm: A Novel

I’ve always been a big fan of claustrophobic mysteries in which our characters can’t leave and can’t get a break from each other. Make one of them a killer, and the tension spirals deliciously under its own power. It worked for Agatha Christie in And Then There Were None, and it still works today.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to set this up: on a plane, in the familiar cabin in the woods, or, in the case of Nishita Parekh’s debut thriller, The Night of the Storm, in a beautiful Houston home with Hurricane Harvey hammering outside. One advantage of the form is that we readers will forgive the inevitable missteps our heroes make in solving the crime; after all, they can’t pause long enough to rationally think through what’s happening, and if we’re lucky, neither can we.

Parekh gives us a sympathetic protagonist in struggling single mom Jia, who fears losing custody of her 12-year-old son, Ishaan, to her ex unless she can prove she’s a perfect parent. We also get a satisfying setup: Recent transplants from Chicago, Jia and Ishaan miss the window to evacuate and must shelter from the Texas hurricane in the home of Jia’s sister, Seema.

Seema’s husband and his extended relations are gathered under the same roof for similar reasons, and we get wonderfully natural observations of a sprawling Gujarati family, practically tasting the delicious kadhi and khichdi, raisin ice cream, and mint buttermilk. But lest Jia get too comfortable in her new surroundings, a mysterious act of vandalism strikes an immediately ominous tone.

While those assembled debate their options, we are, of course, aware time is running out; Harvey is a monster. The eerily empty subdivision, so close to retention ponds, is clearly unsafe. But we soon learn scheming Seema has her own motivations for encouraging Jia to join them and her own secrets to keep — as do the rest of the trapped characters, from the neighbor who shows up under suspicious circumstances to the grandmother glowering in the corner. Longtime resentments begin to emerge under the stress of rising floodwaters. Add in the suspense-raising stakes of ongoing harassment by Jia’s ex, and by the time the murders start, we’re locked in and ready for the ride.

Parekh’s novel is like an old-fashioned whodunit, with the possible explanation for the mounting crimes changing with each fresh clue. Jia’s suspicions shift rapidly among all the characters, each of whom has plausible motives and plenty of opportunities to commit the deeds in question. The author ably keeps up a tight pace as the story pivots between potential solutions.

Sometimes, Jia is a bit overshadowed by the others, who all seem to be operating on a slightly higher level than she. But this allows us to enjoy the complicated interplay of personalities in the group, from Jia’s slimy brother-in-law, Vipul, to Lisa, the hapless American-born wife of his younger brother. We’re uncertain up until the last moment which of them is the killer and who will be the next victim. The denouement is one you won’t see coming.

If you’re going to set a book amid a hurricane, readers will expect certain things: the loss of power, howling winds, water rushing in under the door. Parekh delivers on her premise — from showing us Seema’s living room full of expensive furniture destroyed by flooding, all the way up to the inevitable moments where our heroes head to the roof with the literal ax.

The climax of the mystery and the climax of the storm are necessarily paired together, but in this story, at least, human nature proves far more destructive than Mother Nature.

Eliza Nellums is the author of the novels All That’s Bright and Gone and The Bone Cay.

Believe in what we do? Support the nonprofit Independent!
comments powered by Disqus