The Second Sister
Claire Kendal
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Buy *The Second Sister* by Claire Kendalonline

The Second Sister
Claire Kendal
Harper Paperbacks
406 pages
September 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Though I didn’t find Kendal’s follow up to The Book of You either as powerful or believable, The Second Sister has much to recommend it. This powerful tale of sibling love is written in a stream-of-consciousness style that features the darkly human dilemma of the narrator, Ella Brooke. She laments the loss of her sister, Miranda, who disappeared ten years earlier. Seeking comfort in the face of Miranda’s anniversary, Ella looks to her sister’s ten-year-old son, Luke: “I hear your voice, even after ten years your words with me.” After all these years, Miranda’s voice still ricochets through Ella’s mind, setting in motion a chaotic jumble of events. Beyond a spate of fresh headlines that shatter all her defenses, Ella attempts to build a new link between the missing Miranda and the machinations of notorious serial killer Jason Thorne.

Eight years ago, Thorne was arrested for torturing and killing three women; it's speculated that Miranda was one of his victims. For Ella, Thorne is not the only possible solution to the puzzle over what really happened to Miranda. Also wrapped up in Miranda’s vanishing is Luke’s father, the “Mystery Man” whose identity has only increased Ella’s frantic sense of vulnerability. Someone is watching Ella and Luke, a man hiding in the shadows. As the ten-year anniversary of Miranda’s disappearance draws near, Ella talks to her sister about everything she’s doing: the personal safety classes, the support group for family members of victims, the home safety visits, the risk assessment clinics: “You were driven by your love for him, and [...] something unimaginably horrible happened to you.” Over the last years, Ella and her parents have found it easier to imagine that Miranda suffered a terrible death than to contemplate the possibility that she made a new life for herself somewhere.

In order to find another way to solve Miranda’s mystery, Ella decides to do something she hasn’t tried before: request a visit with Jason Thorne. At the same time, Ella is invited to a costume party hosted by her best friend, Sadie. Beyond the stress of Sadie’s endless pronouncements and her passion-induced craziness, Ella meets Dr. Adam Holderness, a consultant psychiatrist based in the secure mental hospital outside of the town where Thorne is being indefinitely confined.  Adam guesses that Ella will be drawn to the hospital by a far more powerful force than a love of caffeine or a wish to date him.

The pages quickly turn as the reader indulges in chapter upon chapter of Ella’s impressions of Adam and of Ted, her childhood lover who works for the Serious Crimes Unit but has refused to get involved in Miranda’s case because of his own personal involvement with Ella and her family. Kendal’s details are strong, and the history leading up to Miranda’s disappearance is well-told. The knot of suspense tightens as Ella descends ever further into Thorne's orbit. While her father denies a connection between Miranda and Thorne, Ella’s mother--who danced in the corps de ballet until she became pregnant and had to give up her dreams of being principal ballerina--is revealed to have a strength and a single-mindedness that keeps Ella going. Ella braces for Miranda’s pictures, the “tangled hair and frightened eyes” that infiltrate her dreams.

Since his arrest, Thorne has been alike a “frightened teddy-bear.” Clearly modeled on Hannibal Lecter, Thorne thrives on sexual violence, however passionately he tells Ella otherwise. Thorne explains how Miranda phoned him the day before she vanished, how she liked “nice things, expensive things.” As Ella looks into Thorne’s deep black eyes, the killer sees she’s still traumatized by Miranda’s disappearance, a trauma that goes far beyond the deep stress that she can’t seem to let go. As Thorne embarks on his emotional ambush of Ella, she becomes convinced that she can almost catch sight of Miranda just as “raven-haired and pale-faced as Giselle’s ghost flitting between the broken graveyard’s stones.” There's also the fresh and sickening possibility that Thorne isn’t the only potential source of information. Ella can’t shake the feeling that a strange man is following her, deliberately positioning himself with a perfect view of her bedroom window.

From the mystery behind the elderly Mrs. Buenrostro, to Luke’s father, Sadie’s newfound hatred of Ella, and Ella’s rift with Ted to a series of anonymous phone calls, and an email from someone called the Justice Administrator, Ella takes the bait, overlooking the obvious: nefarious Thorne is still the same leopard with the same spots and has the same penchant for causing trouble for those who dare to cross his orbit. The plot is predictable, but readers who enjoyed Kendal’s previous psycho-drama will find much to like here, even though some twists and turns may seem silly and trite, depending on your perception.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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