Fam­ily se­crets twist the plot in Burke’s ‘The Bet­ter Sis­ter’

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY COLETTE BAN­CROFT Tampa Bay Times

Chloe Tay­lor’s life looks pretty sweet.

The nar­ra­tor of Alafair Burke’s new novel, “The Bet­ter Sis­ter,” Chloe is ed­i­tor in chief of Eve, “one of the last re­main­ing suc­cess­ful fem­i­nist-ori­ented mag­a­zines in the coun­try.” As the book be­gins, she is about to re­ceive a pres­ti­gious Press for the Peo­ple award for Eve’s se­ries of sto­ries re­lated to the #MeToo move­ment.

It’s a tri­umph she’ll cel­e­brate with her teenage step­son, Ethan, and – al­though he barely makes it to the award cer­e­mony on time – her hus­band, Adam Mac­in­tosh, a cor­po­rate lawyer. The fam­ily shares a Man­hat­tan apart­ment, a house in East Hamp­ton and what looks like an In­sta­gram-ready life.

The glow won’t last. The next night, Chloe re­turns from a party to the East Hamp­ton house to find Adam bru­tally mur­dered.

Stunned by shock and grief, Chloe is des­per­ate to un­der­stand his death. She won­ders whether it might be re­lated to a se­ries of mys­te­ri­ous meet­ings with a client in the days be­fore he was killed, meet­ings he was un­usu­ally eva­sive about. Or could it have some­thing to do with the vi­ciously misog­y­nist trolls who pur­sue Chloe on so­cial me­dia with threats of rape and mur­der?

The po­lice have their own the­o­ries, and soon Chloe re­al­izes Ethan is a sus­pect. Con­flict be­tween Ethan and Adam that Chloe sees as nor­mal teenage drama looks more se­ri­ous to the de­tec­tives. Her faith in the boy is un­shak­able, but she needs help, so she reaches out to his bi­o­log­i­cal mother – who hap­pens to be her own older sis­ter, Nicky.

Burke slowly, skill­fully re­veals the story of how first one, then the other sis­ter mar­ried Adam. Nicky was the wild child, given to drink and drugs and fleet­ing re­la­tion­ships un­til Adam brought her sta­bil­ity.

Ethan’s birth up­ended that brief idyll. Within a cou­ple of years Adam had left Nicky and gained cus­tody of their son. A cou­ple more years and he was mar­ried to Chloe, the po­lar op­po­site of her sis­ter, the high-achiev­ing per­fec­tion­ist and, some would say, con­trol freak.

Nicky has long been es­tranged from her sis­ter and ex-hus­band and has lit­tle con­tact with her son. Chloe is re­ally the only mother Ethan has ever known, and she’s de­voted to him. With the help of Nicky and a pow­er­house de­fense at­tor­ney, Olivia Randall, she in­tends to pro­tect him.

The sis­ters find it dif­fi­cult to work in tan­dem, though. There is old bad blood be­tween them and on­go­ing dis­ap­proval of each other’s life­styles, as well as skir­mishes for Ethan’s loy­al­ties.

And then there are the se­crets. The plot of “The Bet­ter Sis­ter” is built upon them.

Burke (the daugh­ter of mas­ter crime fiction writer James Lee Burke) has writ­ten a cou­ple of mys­tery se­ries, one fea­tur­ing NYPD De­tec­tive El­lie Hatcher and another with lawyer Sa­man­tha Kin­caid, as well as the “Un­der Sus­pi­cion” se­ries she writes with mys­tery doyenne Mary Higgins Clark.

“The Bet­ter Sis­ter,” Burke’s 18th book, is a stand-alone that com­pletes a tril­ogy of do­mes­tic thrillers. The tril­ogy also in­cludes “The Ex” – Randall, who re­turns here as Ethan’s lawyer, was its main char­ac­ter – and “The Wife,” now in devel­op­ment as a movie for Ama­zon, with Burke writ­ing the script.

Like all of Burke’s nov­els, “The Bet­ter Sis­ter” ben­e­fits from her in­side knowl­edge of the legal sys­tem. A for­mer pros­e­cu­tor, she now teaches crim­i­nal law and pro­ce­dure in the law school at Hof­s­tra Uni­ver­sity. The novel’s court­room scenes and Randall’s strate­gies ring true, as does the world of Adam’s law firm, with its enor­mously wealthy in­ter­na­tional clien­tele.

But Burke is just as adept at creat­ing com­plex char­ac­ters. Chloe has some sharp edges and un­pleas­ant se­crets, but Burke keeps us in­vested in her in­tel­li­gence and drive. Nicky seems like a ditz, but there’s more to her than we – and Chloe – ex­pect. Burke keeps the ac­tion fast-paced and full of sur­prises.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.