Weekend Herald - Canvas

Sibling rivaly with a twist

- — Reviewed by Greg Fleming

THE BETTER SISTER by Alafair Burke (Faber & Faber, $33) Alafair Burke’s 18th novel is a timely, addictive and twist-laden outing that engages from the first sentence: “I betrayed my sister while standing on the main stairs of the Metropolit­an Museum of Art in a beaded Versace gown (borrowed) and five-inch stiletto heels (never worn again).”

When Adam, a prominent Manhattan lawyer is murdered, two long-estranged sisters are reunited.

One is the dead man’s widow — wealthy, well-known feminist editor Chloe Taylor, who narrates much of the novel; the other his ex — the editor’s troubled elder sister Nicky, who ticks all the requisite “loser” boxes, including child neglect and alcoholism, but who kept it together just long enough to woo and marry the handsome lawyer.

However, once they had a child things went swiftly downhill and eventually Chloe and Adam got together. They lived a privileged life — a swanky Manhattan apartment, a house in East Hampton — but Chloe’s success added to a growing coldness between them as Adam came a distant second in the salary stakes.

That’s the set-up. When Nicky’s impetuous teenage son (now Chloe’s stepson) is accused of murdering his father, Burke’s ingenious plot kicks into gear. Like 2018‘s best-seller The Wife, this puts family dynamics under the microscope of the criminal justice system and looks at another complex female relationsh­ip.

Burke’s experience as a prosecutor and law professor ensures the courtroom scenes ring true, but it’s her novelist skills and a timely socialmedi­a focused #metoo plot that keep the pages turning.

Her depiction of the sisters — their rise and fall as long-kept secrets are revealed — is deftly done although one wishes for a little more page-time for Nicky’s particular brand of jaded cynicism.

The “better sister” — at least, on the face of it — is Chloe (320,000 Twitter followers; has “danced with Ellen”) who we meet in an early chapter receiving an award for her contributi­ons to the feminist movement. But the distance between appearance and reality is something even she can’t quite paper over. Yes, she’s driven, rich and celebrated but much of her life is built on a shifting sand of self-deception and glad-handed PC approval.

In many ways this is an old-fashioned tale and its satisfacti­ons lie in the unexpected ways Burke keeps the plot rolling and readers guessing, while saving key discoverie­s to a perfectly executed ending. THIS STORM by James Ellroy (William Heinemann $38) This Storm LA Confidenti­al). CITY OF WINDOWS by Robert Pobi (Mulholland, $33)

“If you wanted to scare an urban population, few tools were as effective as a faceless man with a rifle,” writes Robert Pobi. Few crime series get out of the gate as effectivel­y as this — a pageturner that isn’t scared to get political. One critic describes it as “The Day of the Jackal for Trump’s America” (second amendment apologists should stay clear). This ex-antique dealer and keen shark-hunter hits the bullseye with his fourth novel combining an all-too-real plot, a compelling protagonis­t (Lucas Page) and some razor-sharp prose. Page is the kind of guy Nasa call when they have a problem; an accident that he refers to as the Event left him with severe physical trauma, one eye and sophistica­ted prosthetic­s. He’s lured back to the FBI after a serial sniper starts targeting people in a bitterly cold New York. Add in a feisty,


1 2

3 4 Malta.

The Men in Black (from the movie of the same name).

The Glastonbur­y Festival. Portuguese. 5 6 7 Your collarbone­s.

No. 10 Downing St, London (official title: Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office).

The Strait of Hormuz. 8 9

10 Rivers (in the Arthur’s Pass area). Beyonce and Jay-z (their Apeshit video was filmed at the Paris art museum). Countries named after rivers (the Belize, Congo, Indus and Niger).

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