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Sister    by Rosamund Lupton order for
by Rosamund Lupton
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2011 (2011)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The front cover of Rosamund Lupton's lyrically engrossing Sister features a quote by Jeffery Deaver, who tells us that the novel 'exists in that rare place where crime fiction and literature coincide.' He got that right.

The story's heroine, Beatrice ('Bee'), flies from New York to London immediately after her mother calls to tell her that her feckless, free spirited younger sister Tess is missing. Sounds like a plot we've seen before, but Lupton's approach is unique. The entire novel is Bee's long letter to her beloved sister. She shares her reactions to the news of Tess's disappearance, to the media attention and the police, and to her sister's friends. Along the way, Bee changes. She divests herself of the man in her life, Todd. And she takes on more and more of Tess's personality as she wraps herself in her sister's life. Bee gradually discovers that she and Tess were not as different as she'd always believed.

Bee knew that Tess was pregnant (by a married tutor from her art college) and that she was involved in a new gene therapy (run by a Professor Rosen) for her baby who had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (the siblings had watched a small brother, Leo, die of the disease when he was only eight). Bee meets Tess's Polish friend Kasia, also pregnant and also part of the trial. They share Tess's flat. She bumps into Simon, a cabinet minister's son and fellow student of Tess's, who had an unhealthy interest in her. Bee learns that Tess's baby died. Then her sister's body is found in 'a small, derelict Victorian building' in Hyde Park.

The police assume suicide due to postpartum psychosis, but Bee doesn't believe it and starts digging. She questions her sister's psychiatrist and the nurses and doctors involved in the gene therapy. She learns that phone calls terrified Tess in the days before she died and that she believed she was being followed. She discovers that Tess was drugged. She wonders why mothers on the gene trial were paid for their participation and why so many records have gone missing. But no matter what she uncovers, the police remain convinced that it was suicide. It's Bee who identifies a killer whose 'hubris was huge and naked and shocking.'

Though Rosamund Lupton's Sister is an excellent thriller, what makes it extraordinary is the deep bond between the two siblings, only emphasized by the author's technique in Bee's telling her story to Tess. The ending, though a shocker, also brings the tale to the perfect conclusion. This is the best novel of any genre that I've read in a long time, absolutely not to be missed.

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