The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne
Published by Putnam, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐
For 15 years, Rachel has been voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric unit, following the deaths of her parents when she was just 11. Though it was ruled a murder-suicide, Rachel’s only memory of the day her parents died is of her standing over her mother’s body holding a rife, convincing her that she must have been responsible. But when a new piece of evidence suggesting otherwise comes to light, she chooses to finally leave the hospital; to return to her childhood home, confront her sister Diana, and unlock her repressed memories once and for all.
I don’t want my relatively low rating to detract from the fact I found this a quick and enjoyable read. And yet, though precise details aren’t revealed until late in the game, the nature of the twist itself is both obvious and underwhelming, so it’s important you head into this with appropriate expectations. What you can hope to enjoy instead is a fun cat-and-mouse game set at a remote lodge surrounded by bear-filled woods, which lends everything instant atmosphere and tension.
The early chapters establish that both Rachel and Diana are not necessarily to be trusted; a detail that I really liked. Flashbacks to the past reveal Diana’s diagnosis of childhood psychopathy, while Rachel’s admission that she finds it amusing to trick her fellow inpatients into believing she has various different psychological conditions suggests she too is a competent liar with a potential cruel side. Though not much is done with the latter thread, its implications still added another layer to my reading experience.
It’s also established from the start that Rachel believes she is able to communicate with animals. I assumed this would be used to suggest she was indeed mentally unwell and somewhat unreliable as a narrator, but it went oddly unexplored, being used instead as a device to propel the story forward or point Rachel in the direction of clues at convenient moments. This element of magical realism felt at odds with the rest of the novel tonally, and I don’t think it added to the narrative in any meaningful or necessary way.
There’s no denying that things become a little ridiculous during the climax and reveal, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief and take everything at face value, this is a swift read with a good use of setting that presents us with some standout tableaus on the way to an obvious if satisfying conclusion.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order The Wicked Sister by clicking here.