Title: THE WICKED SISTER
Author: Karen Dionne
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Read: August 2020
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
For a decade and a half, Rachel
Cunningham has chosen to lock herself away in a psychiatric facility, tortured
by gaps in her memory and the certainty that she is responsible for her
parents' deaths. But when she learns new details about their murders, Rachel
returns, in a quest for answers, to the place where she once felt safest: her
family's sprawling log cabin in the remote forests of Michigan's Upper
As Rachel begins to uncover what really happened on the day her parents were murdered, she learns—as her mother did years earlier—that home can be a place of unspeakable evil, and that the bond she shares with her sister might be the most poisonous of all.
What attracted me to this book:
I loved Karen Dionne’s previous novel, THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER, an atmospheric mystery that made it onto my favourites list in 2018, so I was very excited to read her latest one!
In THE WICKED SISTER, Dionne continues to share her knowledge and love of the Michigan UP wilderness areas with her readers. Rachel, our main protagonist, grew up in the forest, in an old hunting lodge that has been in her father’s family for generations. It made sense to her that her scientist parents should choose such a remote location, which gave them access to the wilderness they were writing about. Little does she know the real reason why her parents chose to relocate here from their suburban home, nor is she aware of the cascade of events that led to her parents’ murder-suicide when Rachel was eleven. Haunted by disjointed memories of holding the gun that killed her mother, and plagued by feelings of guilt that she may have been responsible for her parents’ death, Rachel has spent the last fifteen years in a mental institution. Now, if not cured then at least pronounced able to return into society, it’s time for Rachel to go home.
In another timeline was hear from Jenny, Rachel’s mother, telling of the events leading up to her and her husband’s death. And if you have read Dionne’s previous novel, then you will know her knack of delving into the darkest corners of the human psyche and creating a tale that is truly chilling to the core. I wished that I had read this with a buddy, because I needed counselling after this disturbing tale! If I had to sum it up in one word only, “unsettling” comes to mind. Shaken to the core is another. As layer after layer is stripped away and Rachel’s fragmented memories fall into place, the truth is a picture you will not forget in a hurry.
As much as some of the story’s aspects disturbed me, I thoroughly enjoyed the wilderness setting and the rich descriptions of all kinds of wildlife found there. THE WICKED SISTER is the kind of book where the setting acts like another character, and I was instantly transported there. As with her previous book, Dionne incorporates aspects of legends and fairy tales into her story. Maybe it’s the creation of a child’s mind surviving trauma that Rachel thinks she is able to communicate with animals, or maybe it’s just her survival instinct, but it has saved her life more than once. Even though this element may seem somewhat whimsical, it gave me a sense of hope of how a young child may cope in extreme psychological distress.
All in all, THE WICKED SISTER was a dark and unsettling psychological thriller that drew me in very quickly and had me glued to the pages for hours. I especially enjoyed the remote wilderness setting and Dionne’s rich descriptions of the dense forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which made for armchair travel of the best kind. Even though some aspects of the plot – especially the ending – seemed slightly farfetched, this did not distract from my overall feeling of quiet discomfort that I really appreciate in a mystery. I look forward to Dionne’s next book, and hope she will take us back to the forest she loves and knows so well.
Thank you to Edelweiss and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.