3 of the summer's best new mystery novels
2. Sister, by Rosamund Lupton
Beatrice Hemming's little sister Tess was more beautiful, more artistic, and more carefree than her older sister – and careful, cautious Bee loved her more than anyone on earth in Rosamund Lupton's eerie psychological mystery Sister.
Lupton's first novel opens with Bee remembering the first letter she wrote to Tess, after she was sent away to boarding school. Bee sent hers in the form of a jigsaw puzzle to sneak it past a nosy headmistress. Tess's reply came back penned in lemon juice. “Ever since, kindness has smelled of lemons,” Bee tells her.
With “Sister,” Bee is writing Tess another puzzle letter, but this one will never have a reply. Tess's body has been found in a public restroom in London's Hyde Park, just days after she gave birth to a stillborn son. The coroner rules that the 21-year-old art student committed suicide while in the grip of postpartum psychosis. Heartbroken and disbelieving, Beatrice is determined to prove that Tess was murdered.
Her investigation unfurls in epistolary fashion, a technique Lupton uses to effectively ratchet up both the tension and the tears. “Lacking your ability with broad brushstrokes, I will tell you this story in accurate dots of detail,” Beatrice tells Tess. “I'm hoping that as in a pointillistic painting, the dots will form a picture and when it is completed, we will understand what happened and why.”
If we assume that Bee is right, the list of suspects is impressively varied: There's the father of Tess's child, her married professor; a fellow student who was basically stalking her; and the geneticist who ran the experimental trial Tess participated in after her fetus was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. (The trial was pronounced a success and her son was supposedly "cured.") But the reader starts to worry about Bee's emotional and physical well-being as she abandons her own life to obsessively pursue clues – moving into Tess's apartment, wearing her sister's clothes, and working her old job as bartender. “I was in a Dali painting of drooping clocks, a Mad Hatter's tea-party time,” Beatrice writes.
With its loving portrayal of what it means to be a sister balanced by some impressively Hitchcockian twists, “Sister” should appeal to fans of the character-driven mysteries of Kate Atkinson and Tana French.