Agnes Moore disappears on the day that she is supposed to board a plane to return to England from Sydney. She had made the epic journey to meet up with her younger sister Snow. Agnes had supposed she was an orphan having been left in an orphanage but all these years later she’s learned that she is a beneficiary of her father’s will, and that she has a younger sister. Her family at home in England have no idea of what has happened to her.
Until the reading of the will Snow was also unaware of her sibling living a different kind of life on the other side of the world. Unlike Agnes who was full of excitement at the thought, Snow was not so keen.
The third main character in this story is a journalist New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett who first reports the story Agnes’s disappearance after her daughter Ruby travels to Australia to make an appeal. Then he starts receiving letters from a prisoner.
Caroline Overington uses her settings judiciously. The disappearance of Agnes was the day of a red dust storm, an event that is used by the journalist to nudge at his reader’s memories to conjure up the day and time in their minds. It is also an event that gives the reader something unusual to picture somehow making the disappearance part of an eerie day.
I was really impressed with the way this tale unfolds but unusually for me I will caveat this review with the fact that there are some scenes of suffering that are upsetting. Snow’s letters to the journalist from prison form the backbone of the story. She starts writing to him because she believes that he is misreporting the facts behind the disappearance of her sister and wants to correct them.
People say that I don’t seem to care that my sister went missing after coming all the way out to Australia to visit me, but think about it from my point of view. I didn’t want her to come out in the first place.
As the reader is pretty much in the dark as to what her supposed crime might be at the start the clues come from these letters.
Although Sisters of Mercy might be judged from its premise to be a mystery story, it is really a character study of a woman. If you are a reader who has to like the main character it is possibly not a book for you but I was fascinated as Snow reveals herself, in her own words seemingly naïve about the reaction of the recipient.
I already had a huge respect for Caroline Overington having read a couple of her previous books and I’m glad she is one of the few authors whose work has travelled across the world from Australia. This is an author who steers well away from a formula, her books are all different but all I think, incredibly engaging. Sisters of Mercy is not a story that is wrapped up neatly at the end and because the author chose this method I find myself wondering about the events in it long after I turned the last page.
I’d like to thank the fabulous blogger, Margot Kinberg, for prompting me to buy a copy of this book following her feature of it in a spotlight post on her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…
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