The Better Sister by Alafair Burke
Published by Harper
Publication date: April 16, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Chloe Taylor is on top of her game. She is the editor of a small but prestigious women’s magazine, has just been honored in the field of journalism, and lives the glamorous life in NYC with her handsome lawyer husband, Adam, and her stepson Ethan. It’s all oh-so lovely except for one small fact she never talks about: Adam was her older sister Nicky’s husband and Ethan is her son. This family secret takes on significance when Adam is found dead in their South Hampton home in Alafair Burke’s new novel, The Better Sister.
Burke doesn’t waste any time in wiping the gloss off Chloe’s life once Adam is dead. First there is the fact, on the surface at least, that she stole her sister’s husband. Even if the truth is that Nicky had addiction issues and very little interest in being a mother, it doesn’t read well for a woman who is supposed to be all about empowering women. Needless to say, it also means they’ve had no relationship for the past 15 years. But now, with his father dead, the chain of custody reverts to Nicky, who soon shows up, forcing her way back into Chloe’s life.
Things in The Better Sister get even more intense when details at the crime scene don’t add up and the police turn their attention to Ethan. Now, overachieving, high-powered Chloe and flighty, artsy Nicky have to find a way to come together as their worlds are coming apart. Burke uses their past history as one more complication in this suspenseful thriller.
The Better Sister is the first time I’ve read Alafair Burke, but I can see why people are fans. She knows how to dole out the tension and how to mix up crime, personal psychology, and family dynamics in a way that makes for compulsive reading. She’s not a showy writer with lots of explosive scenes, but I started the novel one night before bed and finished it (336 pages later) the next morning. There is a twist at 2/3 of the way through the novel that literally made me drop the book because it slides so neatly, but unexpectedly, into the narrative. Given this kind of finesse, it was surprising how she continued to pile-on twists at the novel’s very end. It took what felt effortless and made it seem a bit contrived. I thought these elements were unnecessary, but they weren’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the book or for Burke.
In February I was invited to be on The Readerly Report’s podcast to discuss the trend in books with Girl, Woman, Wife, Sister, etc in the title. We had a lot of fun with the subject as well as chatting about what we’re reading! You can check out the episode here and can subscribe wherever you download your podcasts.