Desert Isle Keeper
The Winter Sister
The Winter Sister is the first novel from author Megan Collins, but nothing about it felt like a début. It’s one of those books that feels so incredibly well-done in every conceivable way that I found myself myself constantly wondering how it could possibly be someone’s first novel.
It’s been sixteen years since Sylvie’s older sister Persephone went missing, sixteen years since Sylvie’s life was changed in unimaginable ways. Before Persephone’s disappearance, Sylvie lived a pretty average life. She and her mother had an extremely close relationship, and even though Persephone could be volatile at times, Sylvie still loved her fiercely. But when Persephone’s body was found three days after Sylvie reported her missing, Sylvie’s mother retreated into a haze of drugs and alcohol, leaving her remaining daughter to cope with the devastating loss alone. Fortunately, Sylvie took refuge in her art, and soon left her home town for art school, and she hasn’t been home since.
Now though, Sylvie’s mother has been diagnosed with cancer, and Sylvie is called home to care for her. No one is thrilled with this idea, but there’s no one else to step in, so Sylvie reluctantly moves back into her childhood home and does her best to mend fences with her mother. As you might imagine, this is much easier said than done, especially since the person responsible for Persephone’s death was never caught, leaving Sylvie with tons of unanswered questions.
Then, to make matters much, much worse, Sylvie runs into Ben, Persephone’s former boyfriend, and the person Sylvie has always blamed for her sister’s death. Despite the fact that Sylvie shared her suspicions with the police, they were unable to find evidence to tie Ben to Persephone’s murder, and now Ben is working as a nurse at the center where Sylvie’s mother is receiving treatment. Ben has always professed his innocence, but Sylvie doesn’t believe a word of it; she knows he physically assaulted Persephone back when they were dating, and that’s all the proof she needs. But as she and Ben begin to share their memories of Persephone’s last days, Sylvie begins to wonder if things really are as clear-cut as she used to believe. Is it possible that Ben really isn’t to blame? And if that’s true, then the real killer is still at large.
From reading my description, you might think this is just another in a long string of thrillers about missing girls, but The Winter Sister is so much more than that. The mystery is definitely compelling, but equally fascinating is Sylvie’s inner struggle to find personal healing in the midst of unbearable loss. Ms. Collins has managed to create a story that will appeal to those readers who love spine-tingling thrillers as well as those who are drawn to the resilient heroines and complex relationships most often found in women’s fiction.
I love it when authors allow their characters to inhabit that moral gray area instead of being totally good or completely bad. It gives the story a much more authentic feel, and Ms. Collins definitely excels at that here. Everyone from our heroine to the villain feels like a three-dimensional person you could easily come into contact with in your daily life. She has developed well thought-out backstories for her characters, and their motivations never feel overdone or cartoonish. I didn’t like or relate to every person in the story, but I felt I knew what caused each of them to behave the way they did.
The identity of Persephone’s killer really surprised me. There were a few times I was pretty sure I’d figured out who was responsible, but none of my guesses were correct. I always enjoy it when an author is able to keep me guessing the way Ms. Collins did. She threw in some red herrings, and I definitely fell for a couple of them.
If you’re looking for a compulsively readable story to curl up with this winter, do yourself a favor and give The Winter Sister a try. It’s a rich and enjoyable read that will transport you out of your real life and into the lives of its characters – and who doesn’t love a story that can do that?