Book review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

‘A good page-turner’ is an over-worked cliché these days.

Friday, 26th November 2010, 6:00 am

It is gratifying to report therefore that Rosamund Lupton’s emotionally powerful debut novel more than matches up to the hype it has received courtesy of its Richard & Judy endorsement.

This cleverly worked psychological thriller about the skeletons lurking in the cupboard of what seems at first to be a fairly standard family is both compelling and haunting.

Sister is written in the form of a letter from a young woman to her missing, feared dead, sister and Lupton’s incisive and convincing narrative style allows their turbulent childhood to unfold through a drip-feed of small detail and intriguing allusions to past events.

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Guilt, grief, death, suspicion, illness and obsession all play leading roles in this ambitious first novel.

Beatrice Hemming takes the first flight home to England from her New York apartment when her mother phones to say that younger sister Tess, a student at a London art college, has disappeared.

Despite a five-year age gap, caused by the death of their brother Leo from cystic fibrosis at the age of just eight, the two girls have always been close - or so Beatrice thought.

Beatrice was always very much the older and more sensible sister, easily annoyed and precious about her personal space.

Tess, who fizzed ‘like a bottle of Lucozade with giggle bubbles’, was the feisty one who always seemed to get into trouble.

But now Tess has been missing for four days and the police fear the worst. The press are clamouring for information about Tess’s life and Beatrice has been lined up to do a reconstruction of the last sightings of her sister.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Beatrice is discovering how little she actually knows of what has been happening to her sister and is totally unprepared for the revelations she must now face.

The police, Beatrice’s fiancé and even her mother start to accept that they have probably lost Tess forever, but Beatrice embarks on a dangerous quest to discover the truth, whatever the cost might be.

While the police work grinds on and we slowly become acquainted with the family’s history, Lupton takes us to the heart of a complex web of relationships and provides some twists and turns along the way, not least the startling denoument.

Sister is an impressive debut, intelligently combining a well-plotted and tense detective story with a moving tale of domestic upheaval.

(Piatkus, paperback, £6.99)