Bee is writing a letter to her younger sister, Tess, who has always been the feisty rebel to Bee’s steady resolve. Tess will never get the letter – she has been murdered – and Rosamund Lupton uses this epistolary device to unravel the story in Sister.
Hearing from her mother that her sister is missing, Bee flies from New York to London to find her. Although Tess’s body is discovered early on, the complicated back story incrementally revealing the motivation and the murderer sustains the suspense. When Tess is found in an abandoned area with her wrists slit, the police conclude that she killed herself. An affair with a married man that ended with Tess’s pregnancy and the still-born birth of her son seem to confirm the verdict. But, Bee knows her sister and starts her own investigation.
As Tess tells her dead sister of her search for her killer, she begins a chronological accounting of her sister’s life, flashing back at times to their lives as children of a broken marriage, and the brother who died of cystic fibrosis. Lupton creates a family drama that happens to involve a murder mystery. As the sisters’ emotional relationship is gradually revealed, and the sibling rivalry mixes with the care and concern that connects them, Lupton develops their lives into a psychological thriller that’s hard to stop reading.
Throughout the narrative, she uses literary references that humanize Bee’s perspective as she tracks through the gore. When Bee sees her dead sister’s body, she compares it to “a Desdemona, an Ophelia, a Cordelia – pale and stiff with death, a wronged heroine…”
“Dylan Thomas was wrong: death does have dominion. Death wins the war and the collateral damage is grief. I never thought when I was an English literature student that I’d be arguing with poets, rather than learning their words.”
In her search for the truth, Bee suspects everyone, including: the father of Tess’s child, the stalker who saw her last in the park, the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed Tess with postpartum depression, the doctor who worked with Tess in a medical trial for cystic fibrosis. Lupton keeps the action moving and the possibilities viable.
As she comes closer to revealing the murderer, Bee hints that something has happened to her, and that her own life is in danger. The ending is a surprise – a twist that has been used before, but I didn’t see it coming.
A friend and fellow reader introduced me to this book, and I would not have found it in the stacks without her caution to look for the title with “a novel” attached. Amazing how many sister books are available.
Knowing the author helps too. This is Lupton’s debut novel; her second book – Afterwards – is already a success in the UK, but not due to be published in the United States until next year. This time an arsonist is the key, and I’m looking forward to another wild ride.