Karin Slaughter. Before this I had never read one of her books. I thought this would be a formulaic thriller, but I was sooooo wrong. In my opinion, this was a dark dark family drama. Yes there is a murder. Yes there are moments that made me squirm, so much so I wondered where the author got these ideas. To me, all of that is secondary to what the book is really about -- the relationship between two sisters.
Twenty-plus years ago, Lydia and Claire's sister, Julia, went missing. Did she leave on her own or was she taken? Is she alive or is she dead? Her disappearance consumed their family, especially their father. He spent his days and nights pouring over police reports, pursuing witnesses, and pursuing leads that went nowhere. In a way, his life stopped when Julia disappeared. His marriage to their mother ended in divorce, and the family was forever fractured. Lydia lost herself in drugs. And Claire lost herself in a seemingly "perfect" man named Paul.
It was Paul who drove a wedge between Lydia, and her entire family. Lydia always knew something was off with Paul and truly saw him for what he was. But no one would believe her, especially Claire. Paul and Claire get married, settling into domestic life. It takes years before Lydia overcomes her drug addiction, but her life blossoms. She's now a mother, has a successful business, and a man she loves. The lives Claire and Lydia have built are about to be shattered.
The disappearance of another young girl has eerie similarities to Julia's case. Are both cases the work of the same person? Or is it just a coincidence? In the two decades since Julia's disappearance, her sisters have never been the same. Thoughts of Julia are never far from their minds. And now more than ever, Lydia and Claire will need to rely on each other. Paul is murdered, shattering Claire's sense of security -- and everything she thought she knew about her husband. I don't think it's a spoiler by dropping this little nugget about Paul because it happens very early in the book. The aftermath of his death is the main catalyst for the book. His death forces Lydia and Claire to reunite after two decades of silence.
There's no picking up right where they left off, but they're forced to confront the pain. Claire begins to learn who Paul really was. Outwardly, Paul exuded nothing but confidence and perfection. However, he was far from perfect. He had a lot of secrets, many of them disturbing and criminal. These are secrets that Claire can't handle on her own. She turns to Lydia for help. Lydia is reluctant, and despite the long time apart her sister needs her. The bond between them was always there, but they had to wait until they were both emotionally ready. As they peel back the layers of Paul's secret life, they get closer and closer.
Some of the details of Paul's shenanigans were difficult to read. I don't want to go into detail on his secrets because I think it would give away a big plot point. Just know that it involves torture, disturbing enough that it made me a little squeamish. Dark details aside, I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Beginning to end I didn't know where the story was going. I don't mean that in a bad way, but a good way. This was a thoroughly compulsive read. Chapter after chapter I just wanted to know what's going to happen. Is Julia really dead? Was Paul somehow involved? But the most important thing, I wanted to know if Claire and Lydia could get back to being sisters. To being best friends. I think that was the ultimate goal all along, not to solve crimes but to heal a family. I think Karin Slaughter did an excellent job of balancing the sinister elements with the heartfelt elements. I'm now a fan, and will definitely read more of her books.
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) in exchange for an honest review.