5 December 2012

Review: SISTERS OF MERCY, Caroline Overington

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 614 KB
  • Print Length: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (October 24, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008NEZXG6
  • source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington is the haunting story of two sisters - one has vanished, the other is behind bars...Snow Delaney was born a generation and a world away from her sister, Agnes.

Until recently, neither even knew of the other's existence. They came together only for the reading of their father's will - when Snow discovered, to her horror, that she was not the sole beneficiary of his large estate.

Now Snow is in prison and Agnes is missing, disappeared in the eerie red dust that blanketed Sydney from dawn on September 23, 2009. With no other family left, Snow turns to crime journalist Jack Fawcett, protesting her innocence in a series of defiant letters from prison. Has she been unfairly judged? Or will Jack's own research reveal a story even more shocking than the one Snow wants to tell?

With Sisters of Mercy Caroline Overington once again proves she is one of the most exciting new novelists of recent years.

My Take - I may not have been able to avoid spoilers here

This book has an interesting structure: the main narration is by Jack "Tap" Fawcett, a journalist who has been following the disappearance of Agnes Moore, a British visitor to Sydney, and the trial of her sister Snow Delaney for cruelty to the disabled children in her care.

Through letters from prison to Jack, Snow recounts her life story to the point where her father dies and she discovers through the lawyer who is the executor of her estate that she has an older sister to whom she must offer half of her considerable inheritance.

The author uses world and Australian events such as "the dismissal" of Gough Whitlam in 1975 to place the novel in time. Agnes Moore, born in London in 1940, was evacuated to Australia during the war and spent her childhood in Western Australia before returning to Britain as a young woman. I did wonder at the time of reading how effective this historical setting technique would be for non- Australian readers.

Because of the recounting of Snow's life the novel takes a long time to get to the disappearance of Agnes, Snow's older sister who has come from England to Sydney to meet her. I'm not sure we really needed all that back story. Snow's life is described through her letters to Jack, and in the light of later revelations, we do have to question her reliability as a narrator.

Although an afterword tells us SISTERS OF MERCY is entirely a work of fiction, I couldn't help wondering how much of the truly horrific things that Snow Delaney does have come from cases the author has come across as a journalist.

At the end of the novel there is a set of questions for reading groups intended to help them get more out of the novel by considering some aspects and incidents in depth. I read SISTERS OF MERCY for my face to face reading group and unfortunately I'll be absent for the discussion. I'd love to be a fly on the wall because there is really plenty to talk about. It is a novel that frustrated, horrified, and captivated me all at the same time.

This is the first book I've read by this Australian author.

My rating: 4.4

Review by Bernadette.

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