The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne
|The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A superb thriller set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It's a brilliant read and you won't be able to put it down: I finished it in just over twenty-four hours. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: August 2020|
|External links: Author's website|
When we first meet Rachel Cunningham she's an inpatient at the Newberry Regional Mental Health Center in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She's twenty-six and has been there for fifteen years, convinced that she accidentally killed her mother when she was eleven-years-old and that her father then took the gun and killed himself. Her sister, Diana, just twenty-years-old, was left at the family home, a lodge in the Upper Peninsula wilderness. Rachel's very bright and although she's a voluntary patient at the Mental Health Center she remains there, feeling that this is what she deserves. Perhaps, though, the circumstances are not as she remembers.
There's a reason that Peter and Jennifer Cunningham moved with their two daughters to the lodge. Peter and Jenny were wildlife biologists and Peter should have been teaching classes at the University of Michigan but one day a neighbour's son, William Yang, died in the Cunningham's swimming pool. Jenny had dived in and pulled the boy out of the pool and tried CPR but to no avail. Diana had been watching television but when Jenny returned to her, Diana's clothes were soaking wet. Diana was a psychopath and the Cunninghams' could not risk what happened to William happening to another child. How would that work out? Would the rest of the Cunningham family be at risk?
If the Cunningham's were to work they needed childcare. Rachel was amenable, but Diana was difficult and obstructive, so Charlotte, Jenny's sister, was invited to come with them to look after the children. It seemed fortunate that Charlotte developed a bond with Diana and whilst there were incidents the family lived in the lodge until Rachel was eleven-years-old.
It's three years and hundreds of books since I read The Marsh King's Daughter, but as soon as I saw the name 'Karen Dionne' I knew that I had to read this book. The setting in both books is Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Dionne brings the area to brilliant, dramatic life. It's hot in summer, harsh in winter and populated by bears, some of whom will play a major part in the story. Then there are the ravens...
Psychological thrillers don't come much better than this as two generations of sisters struggle with their relationships. A psychologist once told me that when there is a severe mental illness in a family certain facets of the illness tend to spread to other people living in the home. Diana is the psychopath but there's something wild and dangerous about Rachel too. And is the relationship which Jenny has with Charlotte and which Charlotte has with the children as innocent and wholesome as it seems?
I can think of few diagnoses which would be more difficult for a parent to receive than that a child is a psychopath. Even a life-threatening illness is usually only a danger to the child themself. Psychopathy isn't generally a danger to the sufferer - unless one takes account of the possible consequences - but is a danger to those around the psychopath. Dionne handles this elegantly and I was full of admiration for the way the characters are written. I'd like to thank the publishers for making a review copy available to the Bookbag.
If this book appeals and you've already read The Marsh King's Daughter, you might also appreciate Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak. For a true story, have a look at A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy by Sue Klebold which illustrates how the combination of two people with mental illnesses combined to create tragedy.
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