You don’t want to start reading THE GOOD SISTER just before going to bed, and not because you will stay up all night reading it. Rather, it’s the imagery that opens the book --- a scene involving a rocking chair --- that will sink itself so deeply into your cranial folds that you’ll wish for surgery to remove it. From there, Staub launches into a house-under-siege scenario that will have you checking every creak, crunch and thump in the night that you hear (or think you hear). And at that point, THE GOOD SISTER has only barely begun.
"Staub will have your jaw dropping throughout the book, particularly near the conclusion (I never saw that coming)."
it’s not just the frights and the thrills that make Staub’s suspense novels so addicting. It’s the characterization. Anyone who has picked up one of her books knows at least someone among the characters who populate her books, and THE GOOD SISTER is no exception to that rule. The immediately identifiable character is Jen Archer, a stay-at-home mother who also stayed in the neighborhood in which she grew up, or close enough to it that her older daughter, Carley, attends the same long-established high school that Jen did as a teenager. That would be Sacred Sisters, a Catholic girls’ school (you didn’t really need me to tell you that, did you?) that Staub nails right down to the foundation. As we learn early on, Jen was a bit of a big mouth in school, while Carley --- conscientious Carley, as she is known --- is much quieter. Too quiet, in fact, as Jen and her husband learn when the school psychologist informs them that Carley has been the victim of girl-bullying at the school.
However, there’s a bit more lurking in and around Sacred Sisters than snide remarks and ostracism at lunch time. We get a hint of it at the beginning of THE GOOD SISTER, but that malevolent presence never really goes away; it intermittently manifests itself throughout the book, though we never get a really good look at it until it is far too late. Carley, who has difficulty making friends at school and has problems relating with her mother, finds some solace in the company of “Angel,” an online presence with whom she can discuss virtually (heh heh) anything, including her annoying younger sister, the school where she feels she is an outcast, and the tragedies, great and small, that have touched her life. These include the sudden death of her former best friend, a loss that still has her quietly reeling.
Angel may be half a world away, or sit in the next row of one of her classes, or be watching her from outside of school. Carley has no way of knowing and, for the most part, doesn’t really care. All too soon, however, another student at Sacred Sisters dies, and she too had a link to Carley. No fool despite her age, Carley senses that someone is purposefully selecting girls with ties to her as victims, and that she might well be next to die. She is only partially right. The secret behind the attacks on the students lies in the past, and it is one that nobody --- least of all the reader --- will see coming until it is too late.
Surprises abound in THE GOOD SISTER. Staub will have your jaw dropping throughout the book, particularly near the conclusion (I never saw that coming). Additionally, you won’t be able to help but wonder how many of your own friends harbor similar skeletons, ambulatory and otherwise, in their own closets.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 27, 2013