The Missing Sister
By Elle Marr
Thomas & Mercer; paperback, 299 pages; $15.95; available Wednesday, April 1
This thrilling debut novel from Elle Marr is a look into the importance of identity and the strength of sisterhood. The story follows a young American woman in her desperate search for answers about her twin sister's apparent death in the dark underbelly of Paris.
Marr is a native of Sacramento, California, who explored the urban wilderness of the Southern part of that state before spending three wine-and-cheese-filled years in France, where she earned a master's degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris. She now lives outside Portland, Oregon, with her husband and a very demanding feline.
In The Missing Sister, Shayna Darby, the practical science twin, sees her summer take an alarming turn when she is forced to make an abrupt trip to Paris to identify the body of her estranged sister, Angela, an artist who has been secretive lately.
Angela was found in a river ten days after her death. She is most easily identified by a tattoo, one that Shayna had never known about. Shayna, too deep in shock to grieve, soon meets with Angela's distraught but determined boyfriend, Sebastien, who helps her paint a picture of Angela's life in Paris, as well as the the final days of her life.
Marr writes in Shayna's voice, "Angela was born a mere two minutes before me, but she took with her the creativity of the womb, leaving me to steep in pragmatism.
Where is she now? Is she in some drawer? Is it cold? Is she alone?
'Merci, monsieur.' I place the money in the driver's grooved palm, then exit the cab. Pairs of people move across the open square of the ajacent Pigalle metro stop, as if the buddy system is obligatory - everything better with someone else there to share it. Twin girls with yellow hair skip rope by a fountain, and a breath whooshes out of me as I watch them. Over the fountain's sprouts a sculpture of the Greek goddess Persephone hunches. Her carved expression howls with sadness, and tears of pigeon shit frame her mouth.
When Angela first arrived, she sent photos of herself in front of the Eiffel Tower with silk scarves wrapped around her dark hair, sunglasses covering half her face. Her Grace Kelly phase from adolescence never fully expired. It was Angela's sense of poise - the confidence that she could rival a princess - that made her so enthralling to men and women. The only stranger I ever idolized was Marie Curie.
Different scenarios leaped to mind when I read the first email from Sebastien saying Angela was missing - then the second, then the third, announcing her death. I tried to rationalize the irrational: Angela was over their relationship and stopped returning his calls. Angela took an impromptu trip to Turkey (her way of moving on). Angela packed up in the middle of the night and changed apartments without telling him. My sister loved a dramatic exit almost as much as a romantic beginning.
I was wrong. After struggling through French headlines on Le Monde's website about a shooting at the Sorbonne University, where Angela was doing doctoral research I started the calls. I left ten messages on Angela's voice mail. I called a dozen different numbers associated with the Paris police and spoke with indignant Parisians who could not understand my shitty French. When the American embassy contacted me as Angela's next of kin, the news became real. When Inspector Valentin called to inform me of Angela's probable homicide, it became a nightmare."
The seemingly straightforward, though difficult, trip to organize Angela's affairs turns on its head in an instant when Shayna discovers a message on a whiteboard in Angela's apartment that is written in their childhood code - ALIVE. TRUST NO ONE.
In foreign surroundings where she isn't sure who she can and can't trust, Shayna takes this warning to heart. She lies to the police and maintains need-to-know relationships with Angela's friends, even those who want to help. These tactics and her sense of urgency are heightened when Shayna is informed that a potential serial killer may be involved.
As Shayna digs deeper into the life of her sister, she follows clue after potential coded clue. Trying to derive meaning from fast food restaurants, a string of numbers, friends' names, and information about Angela's doctoral thesis subject, which was on the catacombs of Paris; Shayna becomes increasingly frustrated with what seems like a trail of dead ends and increasingly fearful with each passing day.
As Shayna gets closer to the truth, and to the killer, Shayna's own life may now be in the balance.