Source; Review copy
Publication: 4 August 2020 from Sphere
She thought she’d buried her past. But what if it’s been hunting her this whole time?
You have been cut off from society for fifteen years, shut away in a mental hospital in self-imposed exile as punishment for the terrible thing you did when you were a child.
But what if nothing about your past is as it seems?
And if you didn’t accidentally shoot and kill your mother, then whoever did is still out there. Waiting for you.
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.
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.
I loved The Marsh King’s Daughter and so was never going to turn down the opportunity to read The Wicked Sister. The story centres on Rachel Cunningham, a 26 year old young woman who voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital at the tender age of 11 years old. She did so because she was responsible for her parents’ death and knew she deserved to be locked up.
Set in the wilds of remote wild, Michigan, this is the story of Rachel and her highly dysfunctional family. Rachel’s parents, Jenny and Peter, had taken her and her sister Diana to a hunting lodge in a remote location while they used their scientific skills to study the biology of the wildlife around them.
Rachel receives no visitors and has one friend at the Newberry Psychiatric Hospital and that’s Scotty, whom she looks after. She has also got to know Scotty’s brother Trevor quite well on his regular visits to see Scotty. It is Trevor, a journalist, who shows her the Police and Medical Examiner’s reports of her parents’ deaths and she realises that all along she has been innocent. Her self-imposed 15 year isolation was all for nothing as she could not have been responsible.
So she checks herself out of the hospital and with Trevor’s help, travels back to the family home in the wilds of Upper Michigan where her sister Diana and Aunt Charlotte are now happily ensconced. Rachel’s memories are distorted by the trauma she has endured, coupled with the passage of time and she needs to return home in order to understand exactly what happened. If she didn’t kill her parents, who did? Why didn’t Charlotte and Diana tell her what really happened? Secrets abound and Rachel is determined to find answers.
Utilising a dual timeline, Dionne shows us through Rachel’s mother’s eyes, the events that led to the family moving into a wild isolation and what then ensued. Two sisters, who only had each other as playmates, with a huge natural canvas to play in as their parents grew ever more anxious about their futures.
What we learn is incredibly chilling as Jenny tries hard to reconcile her parenting with the development of one of her daughters from a demanding bright child into a deeply cruel and manipulative psychopath without empathy. It is heart-breaking to read of Jenny and Peter’s struggles with their domineering daughter as they first of all seek to downplay the signs and then realise that nothing they can do will halt what’s happening and many more will be hurt unless they take action.
Jenny is relieved when her sister Charlotte comes to live with them, providing her with help and support. At last she will not have to bear the burden alone, for Peter is rather an absent parent.
The return of Rachel to the cabin unannounced is the catalyst for a host of revelations as a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues. Dionne does a remarkable job of building a layered picture of cold and calculating acts of cruelty which ultimately and inevitably leading to death.
She creates an atmosphere in which the landscape and its beasts play an integral part in showing the brutality of nature and this book is a clear advocate of nature not nurture when it comes to psychopathy.
Her portrait of psychopathy is incredibly well done and very scary as we see the characters develop from childhood onwards and the terrifying impact it has on the whole family as they try and fail to deal with the hand they have been dealt.
Though there are moments when for plot purposes a suspension of disbelief is required, this does not detract from one of the most trenchant description of psychopathy I have come across. Add to that the wilderness setting which is at once vast and yet claustrophobic, a lot of action and a rapid pace and what you get is a book that you will race through as you hold your breath waiting to find out what will happen.
It is unnerving, twisty and full of some pretty gruesome moments but the overall depiction of mental health issues is a riveting one as we find Rachel talking to the animals and getting answers.
Verdict: A gripping, twisted and propulsive thriller with bags of atmosphere which is enhanced by strong writing making for a very enjoyable read.
Karen Dionne is the USA Today and #1 internationally bestselling author of the award-winning psychological suspense novel The Marsh King’s Daughter published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the US and in 25 other languages. Her next psychological suspense, The Wicked Sister, will publish from G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the US and Little, Brown in the UK August 4, 2020. Karen enjoys nature photography and lives with her husband in Detroit’s northern suburbs. Photo:Robert Bruce