Pub. Date: February 5, 2019
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Touchstone!)
Summary: Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.
In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained “Dark Days” even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later. Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.
As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth really will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Sixteen years ago Sylvie had enough. For months her older sister Persephone would sneak out of their bedroom to see a boy the girls’ mother forbade Persephone from seeing. Each time Sylvie would be instructed to leave the bedroom window cracked, opened just enough for Persephone to sneak back in hours later. Each time she would wake her younger sister and ask Sylvie to paint over the fresh bruises marking her body.
One winter night Sylvie couldn’t take it anymore. Ben Emory – the town’s golden boy and son of the mayor – was covering her sister in bruises and Persephone refused to do anything about it. If Persephone wouldn’t stop seeing him, well Sylvie would make sure their mother found out. That night she locked the bedroom window, firmly convinced that her sister would eventually go to the front door, wake their mother, and her secret would be out. Persephone’s rage would be worth it if it meant their mother would put a stop to her relationship with Ben.
But things didn’t go according to plan. Wide awake, Sylvie heard her sister try the window and when she couldn’t get in, she simply got back into Ben’s truck and they drove off. That was the last time her sister was seen alive. Though suspects were questioned, no arrests were made and Persephone’s murder was never solved. Sylvie and her mother were both grief-stricken; Annie delving into bottles of alcohol and refusing to leave her room, Sylvie burying herself in her art, determined to get a scholarship so she could leave that house.
Sixteen years later her aunt calls to tell Sylvie her mother has cancer and that Sylvie needs to come home to care for her. Her relationship with her mother already fractured nearly to the point of no return, things go from bad to worse when Sylvie discovers Ben Emory – the boy she was convinced killed her sister – now works as a nurse at her mother’s cancer treatment center. The years have not dulled her pain, especially now that she’s back home, and as she begins looking deeper into Persephone’s murder, Sylvie discovers secrets she was never meant to uncover.
I want to start by saying The Winter Sister is a great debut and I’m curious to see where Megan Collins goes from here! I should also point out I read this in two chunks, the second of which took place at 5am on a Saturday morning just so I could have some uninterrupted reading time before the rest of the house woke up. I’m sure that says something about this novel.
However, I’m a mystery fan. I love psychological and domestic thrillers. I’ve read a lot of them. When you read countless novels in a certain genre (regardless of the genre), you begin to notice tropes and formulas and, while I clearly enjoyed The Winter Sister, I have to admit there really wasn’t anything ground-breaking or shocking within its pages. Even the big reveals weren’t nearly as surprising for me as they would be for readers who aren’t as familiar with thrillers as I am (one episode of Law & Order kept playing in my head after one reveal). These ideas aren’t new and because of that I wasn’t as wowed as other readers, but it was still an entertaining read.
I do want to point out one issue: Sylvie’s best friend. I hated her. They were college roommates who became post-college roommates. Away at school, for the first time since her sister’s death Sylvie wasn’t just Persephone’s Sister. She got to be her own person and in that, she mentioned she did have a sister, but that she was killed in a car accident when Sylvie was three. Over the course of the novel, the truth about that night slowly comes out, and eventually Sylvie’s best friend heads to google to look at old news articles. It’s there she learns Persephone was strangled, brutally murdered, and that it happened when Sylvie was 14. The kicker is that she becomes enraged. She demands Sylvie call her and explain everything. Sylvie doesn’t owe this girl an explanation at all and I was floored at both of their reactions.
While I can’t say I was genuinely shocked or surprised by anything in The Winter Sister, I did enjoy it to where I woke up before dawn – on a weekend – so I could have quiet time to finish reading. I can certainly see this becoming a book club favorite (there’s MUCH to discuss within its pages) but feel that heavy readers of the genre, like me, will simply find a decent, okay read while those who aren’t as familiar with the usual tropes will have a much stronger reaction.