This did not sound like the usual mystery thriller. In fact the premise is rather strange. Still, it is a fascinating tale.
Rosamund Lupton’s Sister (336 pages, Crown, $24) tells this story of Beatrice, a young Brit who has moved back to London from New York, where she was attempting to start a career. She has come to London because her sister Tess has gone missing. She has a bad feeling about this development; and when not too long after her arrival in London, Tess’s body turns up in an unused lavatory at Hyde Park, Beatrice is on a mission.
The novel is told in the form of long letters that Beatrice is writing to her dead sister. She and Tess were close enough to be in touch every day, through email and texting, and Bea feels the loss of Tess intensely. But when the police report the coroner’s statement, in which Tess’s death was determined to be a suicide, Bea becomes determined to prove that Tess was murdered.
In order to accomplish this, Bea moves into Tess’s apartment and begins living her life. She finds her sister’s friends, and she discovers that she was pregnant. A student in art school, Tess had become involved with one of her professors, and he was among the first that Bea considers responsible for her sister’s murder.
In the course of several months, however, several possible candidates for the crime present themselves. There is Simon, a jealous art-student boyfriend; the psychiatrist, whom Bea suspects may have provided the drugs that were discovered in Tess’s system; and even a full-time nanny, with whom Tess attended childbirth classes.
What happens as Bea explores the farthest reaches of Tess’s private experience is that she discovers more about her sister than she had ever imagined. This increased knowledge is really part of the point, and Bea herself becomes a different person as she becomes reacquainted with the sister she didn’t really know.
This story of sisterhood and the family, which emerges in bits and snatches as Bea reflects on what is happening to her, is rich and wonderful. Few mysteries develop a personal tale more moving than this. Lupton, a first-time novelist, is wonderful at probing deeply into the guilt of the sister who left home and thought that her sibling would be fine.
As the novel builds to its devastating conclusion, it begins to feel as if all the assumptions of the narrative are now up for grabs, and the closing pages open whole new worlds of possibility. One of Lupton’s great talents is her ability to plot a mystery such as this, and if it not such a great surprise who the murderer might be, it is truly amazing how that knowledge emerges in the end.
This is a great first novel that I am happy to recommend.
Sister is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.