BOOK REVIEW: HIS WIFE'S SISTER, BY AJ WILLS
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Published by: Cherry Tree Publishing (7 May 2020)
He stole her childhood. Now she wants it back.
Mara Sitwell was only eleven when she went missing.
Nineteen years later, she’s been found wandering through remote woodland, alone and confused.
She says she’s been kept in an underground cell for all these years - but refuses to reveal anything about the man who snatched her.
What does she have to hide? And who’s she protecting?
Her brother-in-law, Damian, certainly doubts she’s telling the whole truth and fears she might even be a danger to his young children, especially when his wife insists on moving Mara into their home.
To save his family, Damian will have to prove what really happened to Mara all those years ago.
But the truth is never easy to uncover when it’s been buried so deep. . .
A chilling, suspenseful, and blood-pressure ratcheting novel with an unexpected ending that just misses the mark. Looking forward to the growth and development of AJ Wills' writing and future work.
This crime fiction thriller is a point of contention for me. On the one hand I absolutely loved it. I found it captivating and chilling: I felt tense, dread, a huge sense of foreboding that played on mind and sky-rocketed my blood pressure. I enjoyed every character, finding myself sympathetic and suspicious in equal measure. Then the ending happened.
It is typical of me to write off an entire book because of one tiny aspect of it. But since broadening my horizons and going back to study (gold star, please) I'm aiming to stop such catastrophic thinking and instead to attain a more balanced view. Just because I did not enjoy the ending of His Wife’s Sister (or maybe its not the way I would have written it) doesn’t mean that there weren’t other aspects of the novel I found excellent and particularly well done.
Damian was a well written character for me. I hated him from the very moment Lucia discovered her missing sister, Mara, had been found alive and was waiting at a police station to meet her.
“Lucia nodded. Damian took her hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze, feeling like a little boy on Christmas morning. In his wildest dreams, he'd never imagined this moment. He was in a turmoil of anticipation, his heart racing. Lucia, on the other hand, seemed remarkably calm. He only hoped she wouldn't disappoint him. It was a huge moment for them both.”
Disappoint you, Damian? I’m sorry, was your sister kidnapped by a lunatic and deemed missing for the last nineteen years? What an arrogant man-child.
But then … I found myself believing that Mara was dangerous, off kilter, and susceptible to violence. I found myself agreeing with Damian and resisting when Lucia broaches the idea of inviting Mara into the family home with the children. I found myself sympathising with Damian when he tells Lucia that she mustn’t forget her own family in the here and now, rather than trying to make amends for the past.
I’m struggling to articulate without giving anything away, but I found the twist at the end quite disconcerting. I felt shock, but not of the satisfying kind. I found I couldn’t relate to a character whose role changed so abruptly when they had been portrayed so strongly in one way throughout the entire novel.
I didn’t enjoy the ending because I feel it missed the mark. In a way, this novel is written in a kind of third person unreliable narrator style (ooh, controversial.)
But the unreliable narrator is a balancing act between admission and omission. It’s not about downright lies. Gone Girl worked because even though Amy Dunne’s diary was a work of fiction, the rest of the novel has enough differing view points as to throw a question mark over it. In His Wife’s Sister, the focus is very much on Damian and the world from his point of view. Without the perspective of other characters, it’s difficult to question what you are reading. So whilst the ending was shocking, it seemed more confusing and unrealistic than the result of clever plotting.
I did love how author AJ Wills approached the idea of the perverse curiosity of the media and public when it comes to atrocity and violence. I found myself in conflict between agreement with Lucia and wanting to tell the media to f*ck off and stop ruining lives, but also wanting to know every sordid, little detail of Mara’s time in captivity. I don’t doubt that she was sexually assaulted, but was it always rape, or after nineteen years of knowing no different did it become something else? Did she come to care for her captor, or even to love him? How do you cope with knowing only one person, both your nurturer and your destroyer? They who represent the end of your humanity, and the most humanity you have ever known?
And who is James Finch? Is he a paedophile, a sexual predator, a monster? Or is he more of a Fowles-esque Collector? One of the only insights into Finch’s past is a comment that alludes to him not coping with the death of his mother, whom he lived with well into adulthood. He doesn’t strike me as the Norman Bates-type otherwise he’s have killed Mara, but I do feel a bit of the Frederick Clegg about him. I wish I could write more, but unfortunately, we weren’t witness to any further detail about James Finch.
The first three quarters of this novel are brilliant, and I consumed it in one sitting (on my sofa, in jim jams). It is a shame about the ending but there’s no denying AJ Wills is a hugely talented writer with an exciting career ahead of him. I look forward to reading more of his work.
I read His Wife's Sister on Kindle (trying to be paper-free!), but you can get both paperback and e-book on Amazon.