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SISTER by Rosamund Lupton: Book Review

Two sisters, separated by 3,000 miles, careers, personalities.  Two sisters, joined by DNA, shared childhoods, memories.  So are they separate or intertwined?

Arabella Beatrice, known to her younger sister Tess as Bee, narrates the novel.  Bee is in London, helping to search for Tess who has been missing for four days.  Bee has transplanted herself to New York City, is a successful career woman with an equally successful fiancee.  Tess is an art student who has become pregnant by her university art tutor, a married man who quickly told her that he’d have nothing to do with the baby.  Undeterred, Tess is still thrilled by her pregnancy, worried only by the fact that their brother Leon died in childhood from cystic fibrosis, and tests have diagnosed her expected child with the same fatal disease.

Luckily, or so it seems at the time, a local hospital is trying out a new drug to cure the disease in utero. But Tess’s pregnancy ends three weeks earlier than it should have, and her infant son is stillborn.  That’s when she disappears.

Frantic with guilt because she hadn’t returned Tess’s phone calls on the day of the baby’s birth and death, Bee flies to London to help in the search.  But when Tess’s body is found in an abandoned public restroom in a park, the police, the media, and even Bee and Tess’s mother believes that postpartum depression had caused Tess to commit suicide.  And the few loose ends that Bee uncovers do nothing to convince them otherwise.

Bee cannot believe her sister killed herself. She points to Tess’s excited e-mails, the baby clothes she bought, her making Bee promise to come to London to be her doula during the birth.  The police point to her lack of resources, the baby’s death, her single session with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her depression, and her possible drug use.  Neither side can convince the other.

When Bee finds out that the women in the CF tests have been paid three hundred pounds each to participate, and that the doctor in charge is denying those payments, she’s sure that there’s an institutional coverup.  But with each claim that she makes to the police, Bee looks more and more unreliable.  She’s accused Tess’s lover, another art student who obsessively followed Tess around with his camera, and now Tess’s physician of being involved in Tess’s death.

Bee is constantly talking to Tess throughout the novel, telling her about the upcoming television re-enactment of the crime in the hope of finding a witness to the murder, her interviews with an attorney who is helping her prepare for the upcoming trial of the murderer, trying to expurgate her guilt for being too busy on the day that Tess kept trying to reach her in New York.  If only she had taken Tess’s call that morning instead of going into a meeting with her boss, if only she and her fiancee hadn’t taken a spontaneous weekend trip to a cabin where there was no landline and no cell service, if only….But the only way to help Tess now, Bee believes, is to convince the police that she was murdered and force them to find her killer.

Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel is an engrossing page-turner. There is a strong sense of love between the sisters, even given their different lifestyles and personalities.  Characters change in the book, and seemingly minor characters at the beginning take on important roles as the book progresses.  And Bee’s mother and fiancee show their true personalities as Bee’s determination grows.

You can read more about Rosamund Lupton at her web site.