The term “page-turner” is undoubtedly used much too often to describe a gripping novel of suspense, but Sister, a terrific debut by British author Rosamund Lupton, certainly fits the bill. And more than that, it’s a poignant and perceptive depiction of the emotional bonds between two sisters—bonds which remained strong even as years passed and an ocean came between sisters Beatrice and Tess.

Lupton uses an intriguing device throughout the novel—writing in the form of a letter from Beatrice, the older sister who has moved to New York, to her dead sister Tess, who stayed in London to be near their mother. The letter begins just as “the trial” is about to begin—so the reader knows that suicide was not the cause of Tess’ death, as the police first surmised—but it’s the whole thread of events leading up to the trial that provides the novel’s never-ending suspense.

Bea, who is usually in touch daily with Tess, has been on a trip with no cell or Internet service for several days, and so she learns of Tess’ disappearance from their mother, and flies immediately to London. She moves into Tess’ flat and is in constant contact with the police until Tess’ body is found in an abandoned park restroom, her arms slashed. Bea’s letter to her sister moves back and forth in time, relating all the details of her suspicions that Tess was murdered and her investigations into Tess’ relationships in search of possible suspects, including the married father of her recently stillborn child, her psychiatrist and a student who was obsessed with her. Then the letter shifts to the present, where Bea is giving detailed testimony to the prosecuting attorney.

The result is a superb thriller, full of twists and turns, false leads and a surprise ending—all seamlessly woven into a touching story of a sisterly bond that one imagines closely matches that of the talented first-time author and her own (still very much alive) sister.

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