Friday, 4 August 2017

Review: 'The Second Sister' by Claire Kendal

It has been a good while since I read a psychological thriller and I couldn't wait to jump back into the genre. There is something about this genre which I can't help but love. Maybe it is that the standout books from the genre always leave you with some deeper insight into yourself, especially your own dark side, or maybe it's that I just like scaring myself. But for whatever it's worth, I keep returning to psychological thrillers as a kind of palate cleanser after a row of non-fiction and literary fiction books.. For my return, I chose The Second Sister by Claire Kendal because nothing says 'this book is going to mess you up' like family and disappearances. Thanks to Harper Collins and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/03/2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
The chilling new psychological thriller by Claire Kendal, author of the bestselling novel, THE BOOK OF YOU, which was selected for Richard and Judy in 2015. Perfect for fans of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and DISCLAIMER. 
Ten years ago, Ella’s sister Miranda vanished without trace. Now thirty, the same age as Miranda when she disappeared, Ella has grown to look dangerously like the missing woman. Ella becomes convinced that the man who took Miranda is watching her family. To Ella, this is an opportunity as much as a prospect of fear. It makes her more determined than ever to find out what happened to the beautiful and mysterious Miranda. Because who better than a sister to see what the police overlooked and to understand the missing woman? Especially as the perpetrator leaves new evidence that only Ella takes seriously. Is Ella paranoid, or intensely intuitive? She idolised her older sister, but now she will need to face some difficult truths. How was Miranda, a nurse, able to pay cash for her flat and her luxury car? What made her write a will when she was still pregnant, asking that custody of her child be shared between Ella and her parents? The price of learning Miranda’s fate will be far higher than Ella imagines…
As I said, family and psychological thrillers are the perfect mix. Nothing sets up both drama and redemption better than the tight-knit circle of family. Usually the families shown in psychological thrillers are intensely fractured and toxic, which is why I loved that The Second Sister went the other way. Although Ella's family is not perfect and there are fights, tears and betrayals, there is also that deep love and concern that many other novels miss. Because of the relatively warm atmosphere this creates, the darker aspects of the novel feel extra dark. Psychological thrillers are often overly dramatic when it comes to plots. Psychopaths hide behind every corner and protagonists have iron strong wills that nothing can stop. Although Kendal fully joins in with the drama of her chosen genre, the slow burn approach of her novel allows it all to feel a little bit less over-the-top.

The Second Sister only really spans a period of three weeks, in which years of secrets, lies and fears unravel, but Kendal takes her time, setting up the core relationships and the family dynamic before really letting her mystery run wild. As such, the reader can't help but become quite invested in Ella, and in her nephew Luca who is utterly adorable. By giving herself this space at the beginning of the book Kendal also makes it seem more plausible that Ella would have an insight into her sister's disappearance that the police could never have, while also making us realise the changes in Ella as she gets sucked deeper and deeper into her own investigation. Ella's voice in The Second Sister is very strong and I found her very likeable. She is caring and passionate, and has trained herself to be alert and watchful since her Miranda vanished. You want her to succeed in finding answers, as much for her sake as your own. The characters around her vary from clearly untrustworthy to slightly untrustworthy, everyone seemingly having hidden motives that stop Ella along her mission for justice.

Claire Kendal really knows how to drop you in a scary situation and make it seem as real as possible.  By putting you directly into Ella's head Kendal is able to mine each situation for all it's got. Some of the scenes in the book are incredibly visceral, described down to the minutest detail until you almost want to stop reading. There are a lot of twists and turns in this book and I found myself suspecting everyone towards the end of the book. Once you think Ella is safe, Kendal puts another spanner in the works and throws the reader for a loop. She is also very good at setting up story lines early on and then letting them come to fruition later on. This should be expected from a thriller novel, but I find it's surprisingly rare to see it done well. Kendal does a good job at tying up loose ends towards the end of the book, but there is one story line in particular I still find unbelievable. Although I can't go into it without spoiling the book, it seemed like a far fetched idea that didn't sit well in a book that otherwise tries to be as realistic as psychological thrillers allow. As said, their plots are always slightly ridiculous and over-dramatic, but this one aspect involving a rather mysterious yet important man just felt overwrought. Overall, however, The Second Sister is incredibly thrilling and I couldn't put it down.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed The Second Sister and it completely had me in its thrall. Elle is a great protagonist, one of my favourites of the genre so far. Kendal will have you constantly wondering who you can trust and what is going to happen next. You might anticipate some of the surprises, but how she presents them will still delight. I'd recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers.

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