Sister (Lupton)

Rosamund Lupton, 2010
Crown Publishing
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307716514

When her mom calls to tell her that Tess, her younger sister, is missing, Bee returns home to London on the first flight. She expects to find Tess and give her the usual lecture, the bossy big sister scolding her flighty baby sister for taking off without letting anyone know her plans. Tess has always been a free spirit, an artist who takes risks, while conservative Bee couldn’t be more different. Bee is used to watching out for her wayward sibling and is fiercely protective of Tess (and has always been a little stern about her antics). But then Tess is found dead, apparently by her own hand.

Bee is certain that Tess didn’t commit suicide. Their family and the police accept the sad reality, but Bee feels sure that Tess has been murdered.  Single-minded in her search for a killer, Bee moves into Tess's apartment and throws herself headlong into her sister's life--and all its secrets.

Though her family and the police see a grieving sister in denial, unwilling to accept the facts, Bee uncovers the affair Tess was having with a married man and the pregnancy that resulted, and her difficultly with a stalker who may have crossed the line when Tess refused his advances. Tess was also participating in an experimental medical trial that might have gone very wrong.  As a determined Bee gives her statement to the lead investigator, her story reveals a predator who got away with murder--and an obsession that may cost Bee her own life.

A thrilling story of fierce love between siblings, Sister is a suspenseful and accomplished debut with a stunning twist. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Rosamund Lupton read English Literature at Cambridge University. After a variety of jobs in London, including copywriting and reviewing for the Literary Review, she was a winner of Carlton Television's new writers' competition and was selected by the BBC for a place on their new writers' course. She was also invited to join the Royal Court Theatre's writers group. Before becoming a novelist, she was a script-writer for television and film, writing original screenplays. She lives in London with her husband, two children and Tango, a large ginger cat.  (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
A taut, hold-your-breath-and-your-handkerchief thriller.... Like Kate Atkinson, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell, Lupton builds suspense not only around the causes and details of her story's brutal denouement, but also around the personalities and motivations of those who lunge and those who duck.... Both tear-jerking and spine-tingling, Sister provides an adrenaline rush that could cause a chill on the sunniest afternoon.
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times

A fast-paced, absurdly entertaining novel.... Along with a juicy mystery, it resounds with an authentic sense of sisterly love and loyalty.
Boston Globe

British author Lupton's unusual and searing debut is her heroine Beatrice Hemming's letter to her dead younger sister, Tess. Abandoned by their father just before their eight-year-old brother's death from cystic fibrosis and raised by their genteelly ineffectual mother, Bee and Tess have always exchanged long, intimate letters, so when Tess, an unmarried London art student, apparently commits suicide after her CF baby is born dead, Bee resigns her corporate design job in New York City and moves into Tess's shabby London flat. Convinced Tess was murdered, Bee gradually learns Tess had been spurned, like her unborn child, by her married art teacher lover; she had also been eerily pursued by a drugged-up slumming fellow student and mentally tortured by hallucinogenic drugs thrust on her by a masked stalker. Bee's self-defenses crumble as she discovers that she never returned Tess's anguished calls for help. Observing the unsettling similarities between her mother and her fiance, Bee realizes "why no one could be my safety rope." At the harrowing conclusion, Bee's aching heart accepts that "grief is love turned into an eternal missing."
Publishers Weekly

Written in the form of a letter from Beatrice, the older, more substantial sister, to her younger, bohemian sibling, Tess, the narrative reveals within the first few pages that Tess has gone missing and is found dead. Bea and Tess, even with a big age difference and an ocean between them, were incredibly close, so when Bea receives the "phone call," she drops everything and races from New York City to London. Although Tess's death is ruled a suicide, Bea knows her sister would never kill herself. As Bea frantically tries to find the murderer, in the process losing pieces of herself, the reader is catapulted into the search. Verdict: Beautifully written with an unexpected twist at the end, this debut literary thriller was a best seller in Britain and a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick. Thriller fans will eagerly await Lupton's next book. —Marianne Fitzgerald, Annapolis, MD
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Lupton’s remarkable debut novel is a masterful, superlative-inspiring success that will hook readers (and keep them guessing) from page one.... A chilling, gripping, tragic, heart-warming, life-affirming enigma of a story.

Hitchcockian spookiness in this tale of two sisters—one living, one dead—in London. Beatrice Hemming hurries back to London from her home in New York when she hears her younger sister Tess is missing. Tess is an artist and a bit unpredictable, so it's not clear when (or whether) she'll turn up, but after a few days the police find her body in a public bathroom in Hyde Park. Not only that, but she had been pregnant and had just a few days before her death given birth to a stillborn child. Because Tess is found to have cuts on her arms and because her behavior had been erratic, her death is officially ruled a suicide arising from postpartum depression. But Bea is convinced Tess had been murdered. The prime suspect is Emilio Codi, Tess' art professor, a married man who got her pregnant and who made it clear he wants nothing to do with the child. Beatrice (or Bee, as her sister called her) decides to turn detective, and she does this in part by inhabiting Tess' former life. Bee lives in Tess' apartment, takes over Tess' waitressing job and even befriends someone who'd been involved with Tess in an experimental medical program during her pregnancy. Other suspects include a prominent doctor involved in this experiment to "cure" Tess' unborn child of cystic fibrosis, and the head of a biomedical company about to make a killing in the stock market for a cure for CF. But Bee finds deeper mysteries—for example, that Emilio is not a carrier of the CF gene and hence could not be the father of her child. Lupton's decision to make Bee the narrator—and to have her write to her dead sister—enhance the book's eeriness. A skillfully wrought psychological thriller.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. What were your initial theories about how Tess died? How would you have pursued the case if you had been one of the DIs?

2. How does Bee and Tess’s relationship compare to the way you and your siblings interact? What causes the most disagreement between you? What brings you together, no matter what?

3. What did the sisters’ mother teach them about motherhood and being a fulfilled woman? What did she teach them about love?

4. How did their father’s absence affect the way Bee and Tess felt about men?

5. Both sisters are involved in creative fields, even debating typefaces in their emails. What does Tess express in her paintings? Is there any room for self-expression in Bee’s commercial design work?

6. Do you think Bee discovers anything new about her sister in a deep way-  for example when she meets her landlord Amias and friends Kasia and Simon? How much of what Beatrice discovers is about herself?

7. What does the novel say about resilience, both physical and emotional, and where it comes from?

8. How does the memory of Leo affect the Hemming family?

9. Though Bee acknowledges that she and her sister are not devout Catholics, how does their Catholicism affect their view of the world (in an Anglican nation, no less)?

10. Why was Tess drawn to Emilio, and Kasia to Mitch? Would you have been more attracted to Todd or to William?

11. Discuss the novel’s structure. How did it affect you as the narrator referred to Tess as “you”? What was your understanding of Mr. Wright and his role?

12. Dr. Nichols, Professor Rosen, and William all inhabit the world of diagnosis and treatment. How do their three different roles (and mindsets) reflect the realities of modern medicine? 

13. Though Chrom-Med is a fictional company, what real-life questions about gene therapy are raised by the novel? What is the ethical way to apply humanity’s knowledge of the human genome?

14. Discuss the novel’s stunning closing scenes. What do you predict for the aftermath?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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