Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington: Review

I've been waiting for Bernice Barrington to have a novel published since we first took a writing class together and I fell in love with her writerly voice. Her debut thriller, Sisters and Lies, did not disappoint.

The novel opens with an event everyone dreads - a night time phone call with bad news. Rachel's sister Evie has been involved in a car crash in London. She is in a coma and may not survive. Can Rachel drop everything. . . ?

Rachel finds a series of mysteries waiting for her. Who is this guy who claims to be her sister's boyfriend? Why hasn't Rachel heard of him? Where are Evie's friends? And why was Evie driving without a licence? Was her accident really an accident?

These mysteries torment Rachel, but if she doesn't solve them, she and Evie are both in even more danger.

I loved a lot of things about this book, but the main one was the emotional lives of the characters and the skill with which they were drawn. Evie's life (and Rachel's, which Rachel cares about less) are as multi-faceted and real as any life. Alternating between Rachel's investigations and Evie's memories, we witness grief, loss, lust, betrayal, revenge (attempted and successful), denial, deception, jealousy and love. With so many seething feelings, there are two questions - will Rachel find the truth, and can the good stuff in life win out over so much bad?

The portrayal of Evie and Rachel's different experiences of grieving their mother is especially strong, as is Rachel's emotional state while her sister is in a coma. One of my pet hates in novels is when protagonists manage to be flawlessly clear-thinking and rational during a crisis - Rachel reacts like a human, and it makes her character all the more compelling.

I was sure I had guessed the ending. Then I thought I hadn't. Then I thought maybe I had. . . maybe I was still right. . . and then it turned out that I was all wrong. The final page of the novel has a serious sting in the tail, and I'm still thinking about it. . .

Bernice has pulled off a great, resonant read, a strong and pacey thriller, and a kick-ass study of a family in crisis. Sisters and Lies launches tonight in Dublin. For more about Bernice's journey to publication, check out this piece on writing.ie. Bernice tweets @beebarrington.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected my review.