Terrible Twins

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Shadow Sister by Simone van der Vlugt, book reviewLydia loves her job as a teacher in an inner city college in Rotterdam, until she is threatened by a student with a knife in front of the rest of her class. The student is suspended, but he still pops up everywhere, threatening her at every available opportunity. She seeks solace from her husband, daughter and twin sister, Elisa, but she still feels very unsettled. Then Elisa’s story begins and it skips forward a few days, explaining that Lydia was shot dead. The obvious suspect is the student with the knife, but he has an alibi, and anyway, where would he have got the gun? As the story unravels, it is clear that there is much more to Lydia’s life than perhaps even she realised. The list of suspects begins to grow and Elisa, determined to find out who murdered her twin, puts herself in danger more than once.

Twins fascinate most people, so the fact that this story is about twin sisters is bound to capture the attention of most readers. The twins are very well drawn. Lydia is the stronger of the two, used to leading and bossing Elisa around. She disapproves of Elisa’s friends and doesn’t hide the fact. Elisa, however, is not really a pushover. She tolerates her sister’s bossiness, because she loves her, but she will not change her lifestyle to suit her. Considering this is a crime novel and it’s not a particularly long one, the author has take a lot of time to give readers a real flavour of the sisters’ lives together. The fact that the story is told by the twins, in the first person, really helps there.

The story is told in an interesting way. The chapters alternate between Lydia and Elisa, but whereas Lydia’s story is obviously told before her death, Elisa’s starts at Lydia’s funeral. There are a number of occasions where they overlap and we get to see certain events from both sisters’ points of view, but generally, Lydia’s story concentrates on the fear that has built up from the threats, whereas Elisa’s is spent trying to work out exactly why Lydia was shot and by whom. This makes the book a real page-turner, because, as readers, Lydia is still alive as we’re reading her chapters. It may not be completely original story-telling, but it is a bit different from most crime novels and it works very well.

“If you like a good thriller, then this is a really great choice of book.”

Shadow Sister was written in Dutch and translated by Michele Hutchison. However, it is never apparent that it has been translated. The language flows beautifully and, perhaps because there aren’t many references to Dutch words, place names or foods, it could just as easily have been written by someone with English as a native language in the first place. It perhaps would have been interesting to learn a little more about the Netherlands, but then that would have detracted from the story and it is such a good one that it would have been a shame to do that. This isn’t a long book, it’s about 300 pages, the type-set is well-spaced out and the chapters are short. For a thriller, however, that is perfect, because the reader is tempted to read just one more chapter.

Simone van der Vlugt is a well-known author in her native country, although crime is a relatively new genre to her – she concentrated on historical novels for teens in the early part of her career. However, there are a handful of other crime novels that she has written and at least one of them has been translated into English, so I look forward to reading more of her work.

The only negative part of the book is that the ending is a little bit too convoluted. Everything seems to be thrown into the mix and there are a number of red herrings which lead the reader in one direction and then another. It does add to the excitement of the story, but it is a little bit over-done. Sometimes, simple is best. It would, however, probably work a lot better on screen; hopefully someone will bring the story to the attention of a filmmaker at some point, if they haven’t already. Good psychological thrillers are always appreciated, and if the director can work out a way to translate the way the story has been told in the book onto the screen, it should be a real cracker.

Shadow Sister is an excellent book that, although not flawless because of the overly complicated ending, is really well worth a read. The back cover of the book suggests that fans of Nicci French will love the story – and for once, that is absolutely right. However, I think it’s a little stronger that most of Nicci French’s work. If you like a good thriller, then this is a really great choice of book. It’s also a quick read, so ideal if you’ve got a block of time you want to fill – you will almost certainly find it hard to put the book down in between reads. Highly recommended.

Advantages: A real page-turner
Disadvantages: Slightly convoluted ending

Shadow Sister by Simone van der Vlugt hasn’t yet been released in the UK, but is available on Amazon for pre-order. The release date is January 2011. Published by Harper Press, it has 352 pages.

Thanks to Harper Press for providing an advanced review copy to our site.


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Shadow Sister
by Simone van der Vlugt

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Written by sunmeilan

My background is varied. I studied Chinese at Durham University in the UK, Renmin University in Beijing and Nanjing University. I then lived in China for many years, before returning to the UK to study criminology at the London School of Economics, from where I have a Masters. I have published articles on drug treatment and the criminal justice system. Although I have now left this field, I do enjoy crime fiction and reviewing books from this genre. I also have a strong interest in Chinese modern fiction.

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