This is a rather unusual book.
It presents itself as a crime thriller, the story of Tess, a missing young pregnant woman, later found dead in a toilet building, presumably by suicide.
Beatrice, her older sister, didn’t believe it, because it’s totally out of Tess’s character, a life-loving, joyous optimistic person, and because of other suspicious circumstances: there was cystic fibrosis in the family history, so Tess went through a trial test for genetic therapy for her unborn baby – the baby was supposedly cured but died of another disease.
Beatrice tried to unravel all the cover-ups, originally suspecting everyone – the illegitimate father of the baby, the love-struck college student in Tess’s class etc… She ended up finding the real truth: the cure trial test that Tess went through was hijacked by a rogue doctor who did his own genetic enhancement test, then murdered first the baby, then the mother to cover his trail.
Beatrice nearly suffered the fate of her sister by the same murderer, but was saved by Tess’s flat mate, a pregnant girl she took care of out of sisterly love and guilt.
The first unusual thing is the story is presented as Beatrice’s address to her dead sister, recounting all events as she presented them to a CPS lawyer – who ended up being only a a fictional character in Beatrice ‘s mind during her final moment, waiting for her murderer to come back and finish her. It’s rather confusing and strange.
Unusual too is the fact the storyline is only an excuse, a platform to stage sister’s love, family love. The thrill of a mystery is there, but the reader is gripped in huge emotions of sadness, loss, guilt and love …
Subsequently the style is not upbeat, short and purposeful such as you usually find in a thriller, but lyrical and emotional. Here’s a few samples:
Usually time alters and affects everything, but when someone you love dies time cannot change that, no amount of time will ever change that. So time stops having any meaning.
Your coffin reached the bottom of the monstrous hole. And a part of me went down into the muddy earth with you and lay down next to you and died with you.
Was that all I had now? Nothing else from twenty-one years of loving you […] The ghastiness of nothing. Because I was nobody’s sister now.
And unlike any crime thriller, which purpose is pure, mindless entertainment, the book gives you a lot of themes to muse on, such as the power of love, how love changes people, as Beatrice, a normally prim, fussy, reserved and rather snobbish person, dropped everything, her creature comforts, her posh job overseas, to lead a precarious existence in shabby surroundings, just to find the truth in her sister’s death.
Such as how life’s up and down gives you some startling surprises: Beatrice realised in the end that Kasia, the young woman she took under her wings out of pity, out of guilt for Tess, was really the one who took care of her:
The pager sounds again. I don’t need to call back, because I realise it’s become a homing beacon and they’ll follow the sound to me. So Kasia has been paging me all through the night, not because she needed me with her while she had her baby, but because she’s been worried about me. It is the final fragment of the mirror. Because all this time it’s really been her looking after me, hasn’t it? She came to the flat that night because she needed shelter, but she stayed because I was grieving and lonely and needy. It was her arms, with red welts on them, that comforted me that night – the first night I’d slept properly since you’d died. And when she made me dance when I didn’t want to and smile when I didn’t want to, she was forcing me to feel, for a little while, something other than grief and rage.
Such as some moral opinions on the subject of gene therapy, a very controversial topic of our time: gene therapy, in the sense of curing an inherited disease, is acceptable, versus gene enhancement, like what the rogue doctor did, trying to introduce a better IQ gene, is unacceptable.
On the whole, “Sister” offers a nice read, suspenseful story with lots of emotions and beautiful prose. I like the ending paragraphs:
As I waited to be rescued I know that I am bereaved but not diminished by your death. Because you are my sister in every fibre of my being. And that fibre is visible – two stands of DNA twisted in a double helix in every cell of my body – proving visibly, that we are sisters.
It’s taken hours of dark terror and countless thousand words, but by the end it reduces down to so little. I’m sorry. I love you. I always will.
Great review Thanh, I don’t usually read crime thriller, but this sounds interesting
I think crime writings often open our eyes to see the dimension of humanity – cultural, social, psychological, political and religious aspect of human life. Great review.