The Half Sister
Suspension of disbelief can be a tricky thing. Most of the time when I find a book that has unbelievable factors, I don’t enjoy it. Every once in a while though, the outstanding pacing, riveting plot and intriguing characters capture my interest enough that I can ignore a few foibles. Such is the case with Sandie Jones’ The Half Sister.
Kate Walker dreads Sunday lunch with her mother Rose and sister Lauren. She’d been a daddy’s girl and his death last year has made these awkward weekly get-togethers without him almost unbearable. Especially since her husband Matt has to work and can’t be there to offset the caustic babble from her brother-in-law Simon. When someone comes to the door, Kate is almost relieved to have the monotony broken up by their arrival. That changes once the woman opens her mouth.
Lauren just wants something – anything – good in her life. Her relationship with her mum is close but she is all but estranged from her sister Kate, and Lauren’s husband Simon is a passive-aggressive, rude nightmare. With three children under seven and a job which pays only middling well, Lauren is in no position to leave her marriage but she certainly can’t survive the way it is – and isn’t sure there is anything she can do to fix it. She had joined a genealogy site as a lark, to see if there were other relatives she, her mother and sister could connect with, hoping it would be a positive experience that revitalized their family. The last thing she expected is the young woman at the door who says she is their father’s daughter.
Kate throws Jess, the woman claiming to be her dad’s love child, out of the house. She is furious with Lauren for entertaining the possibility that their father could possibly have had an affair and refuses to even discuss the matter.
But Jess has no intention of going away until she gets what she wants, and her pursuit of that may very well destroy these women.
The problem with discussing any suspense novel is that so much of the enjoyment of these tales comes from the revelations that arise as a result of the twists and turns in the plot. This story has a lot of lovely little surprises that I don’t want to spoil so I won’t be telling you much about the storyline, but I can tell you about the intriguing characters and how they drive the mystery forward.
Kate has always been proud of her career as a reporter and editor, and is pleased with all she’s accomplished – but the last few years the one thing she’s wanted has eluded her: children. She’s on her third IVF treatment and isn’t sure she wants to continue pursuing this avenue of reproduction. She adores her husband, knows he wants a family, but their failed attempts to produce offspring and all the painful procedures she’s had to endure have worn her down. Add in the death of her beloved father and she is not in a good place emotionally. It doesn’t help that her sister has given birth to three children in the same amount of time Kate has failed to create even one. The distance that has grown between them is in part due to this, but also due to the fact that Lauren had spent her teens and early twenties hating their father. Kate has never understood the friction between them and can’t help but resent that while Lauren still has the parent she is close to, Kate has lost her own confidant.
Lauren’s life derailed because of actions her dad took when she was sixteen. She feels she has never gotten it back on track and now her search to expand their family has resulted in the conundrum with Jess. Kate is determined to prove Jess is lying – that she is not their father’s child – and she blames Lauren for creating this mess to begin with. Lauren feels like she is in sole possession of the truth; that their dad wasn’t the angel everyone else makes him out to be, and she is glad to have Jess as living proof that he didn’t care for their family half as much as Kate thinks he did. Then yet another unexpected person show’s up in Lauren’s life and everything she’s been holding together with sheer willpower starts to unravel.
Lauren is easily the most sympathetic character in the novel. She is trying to fix impossible situations and while she makes a muddle of everything, her mistakes are understandable. She isn’t responsible for the changes the downturn in the economy brought to her husband’s personality, and she certainly couldn’t have predicted that tracing her family history would result in a stalker making unreasonable demands upon her and her sister. She’s a genuinely kind and caring person, someone who goes the extra mile for the people in her life and I liked her a lot.
The one unbelievable aspect I found in Lauren’s storyline is that surrounding the behavior of someone from her past – they responded hatefully and cruelly to a decision that was rightfully Lauren’s to make and she should not have been so accepting when they contacted her again.
Kate is intelligent and driven. She could easily have been one dimensional, but her issues with fertility and her terrific relationship with Matt turn her into a fully-fleshed individual. She represents perfectly the difficulties modern women still face in balancing their goals of career and family. Kate is also the focal point of the mystery. She is the one who begins to carefully put together the puzzle of who Jess is and just what Jess is after. My only complaint is that Kate’s daddy worship borders on being mental derangement. As the book wore on, I found myself liking her less as she clung to the image of her father’s perfection, even when the evidence clearly pointed in another direction.
The weakest point of the tale is Jess. She is completely unsympathetic; I found her pushy, obnoxious, and uncaring. That would have worked if she had not also been so unbelievable. Discussing her without heading into spoiler territory is difficult but suffice it to say that much of what she accomplishes in the tale would most likely be impossible in the modern world.
Fortunately, Kate and Lauren’s journeys more than make up for the weaknesses in Jess’s storyline. I was completely engaged in discovering how they would deal with all the problems they were working through and just how the reality of their relationship to Jess would affect them. I would recommend The Half-Sister to other fans of mystery novels in the hope it will be a pleasing distraction during these trying times.