Well, what I thought would be the final book, the seventh in the wonderful Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley, turns out not to be the last after all. The Missing Sister will be followed later this year by Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt. So, I finished this latest book with many questions remaining. This is an example of a family saga that you want to run and run. The publication of the eighth book sadly follows Lucinda Riley’s death in 2021, so the forthcoming eighth book will be based on Lucinda’s draft and completed by her son Harry Whittaker. The seven sisters of the myth were Maia, Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Taygete, Electra, and Merope. Their parents were Atlas, a Titan commanded by the god Zeus to hold up the earth, and Pleione, the mythical protectress of sailors. The Missing Sister is the story of Merope – Mary, or Merry, as she is called in the book – though it’s unclear whether she is lost, or simply ‘missing’ from the family because Pa Salt didn’t adopt her. The confusion over the first name adds to the twists in a book packed with twists and turns when the missing D’Aplièse sister is identified as either a mother and daughter, both called Mary. The pursuit begins with the announcement by the family lawyer that the missing sister is in New Zealand. Mary can be identified by the distinctive diamond and emerald ring she wears.
The story is told in various timelines. In the present day we hear the voices of recently-widowed Merry McDougal who leaves New Zealand on a Grand Tour around the world, of her daughter Mary-Kate left at home to run the prize-winning winery, and of the six D’Aplièse sisters who follow the clues. Plus two historical timelines – of Nuala Murphy, a farmer’s daughter in the West of Ireland in July 1920, a critical time in Irish independence; and of Mary O’Reilly starting in October 1955 in the Irish valley of Argideen.
Riley, herself Northern Irish, tells of a chapter in Irish history with a fascinating insight into the impact on a small rural community, the bravery, secrecy, divisions, the betrayals and deprivations. New to me was the ‘Cumann na mBan’, the Irish women’s volunteer movement, and its role not simply in feeding and clothing the fighting men but as couriers delivering not only messages but weapons. An inspiration to the Irish is Michael Collins, from Clonakilty in West Cork, close to where Riley sets her story. ‘The Big Fellow’ rose to be director of intelligence for the Irish Republican Army. Another real person appearing in the story is local Clogagh fighter Charlie Hurley.
My mind swirled with all the options. First of all, is Pa Salt really dead? If he’s alive, why lie to everyone and put them through so much grief? The concept of the adopted sisters raises multiple questions: who is this man, Pa Salt, who collected babies from around the world to care for them. And why does the story of Merope feel different from the others? So many new hints are dropped in this seventh novel, things that don’t add up. Most certainly this is a book to read having read the rest of the series – read as a standalone it will only disappoint.
I finished it with mixed feelings. It’s a long book [the hardcover is 816 pages] with scenes included that might have been shortened or deleted. I found the sisters’ determined pursuit of Mary at best eager but often selfish and inconsiderate. But the Irish sections are wonderful. It’s clear these were close to Riley’s heart which adds emotional depth and understanding. If you enjoy dual-timeline historical fiction combined with the globetrotting glamour of Penny Vincenzi, please pick up The Seven Sisters and start reading this series.
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THE MISSING SISTER by @lucindariley #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5qu via @SandraDanby