‘Once Two Sister’ by Sarah Warburton is a fast-paced book. I read it in two sittings and the author kept me on my toes.
The book centers on, of course, two sisters. Zoe and Ava Hallett grew up despite their clinically distant and robotic scientist parents. Nancy and Walter Hallett are so focused on their work that they do not understand they neglect their children and are guilty of emotional abuse. Worse, they didn’t interfere when the siblings started to drift apart. They could have stepped in if they had not been so blind and obsessed with their work.
The sisters, once close, drift apart as the oldest, Ava, uses her sister’s life in her books. Details about Zoe, her best and worst experiences, all make it into Ava’s books and from there on to the white screen.
Displayed for all the world to see, Ava continues book after book, creating bestseller after bestseller. And with each book, Zoe’s resentment grows. With each bestseller, Zoe feels more and more mocked and deliberately placed on display. So, she withdraws. Not just inside herself but she literally removes herself from her family. But completely in character, her parents do not seem to notice and her sister, well, read it for yourself.
Instead of fighting back, Zoe disappears and creates a new life for herself in another state. When I read this, I wondered why she didn’t consult a lawyer. It would be all too easy to get references to fact-check incidents and to make Ava stop embarrassing and harassing Zoe. But it isn’t mentioned by Warburton as an option.
As Zoe makes a new life for herself with a new name, a husband, a stepdaughter, and new friends, she deems herself save in Houston, Texas. But then the harassing starts and it isn’t done by Ava. Someone has hacked Zoe’s email account and is sending threatening messages. It gets worse, Ava appears to be missing.
In the house, there are no signs of a struggle, Ava’s personal belongings are in place, her husband Glenn is genuinely baffled and angry. He is excluded fast as suspect. He he has an alibi and doesn’t stand to gain from his wife in case of her death. But neither does Zoe yet, suspicion falls on her as the sisters had drifted apart and have a very colourful history together.
Zoe teams up with Glenn to find out why this is happening. Who could have a motive and the means to kidnap Ava, and where could she be kept? Can they reach her in time?
Throughout the book, both Ava and Zoe rethink their relationship and both have to admit, they wished things were different. They are both not good at expressing themselves. Despite using her in her books, Ava lacks the insight into the human soul of the one she used to cuddle to sleep, Zoe.
This book isn’t just a fast-paced mystery. It is a journey to reunite two sisters and not just physically, but emotionally. Neither seems to know the other as well as they could and neither seems to be able to really talk to the other. Too many things happened and instead of working them out, they both allowed things to escalate.
I wish Ava and Zoe had gone to couple’s therapy. I wish they had a screaming session together, a shout-it-out afternoon followed by mandatory journal writing to evaluate themselves. Because, if just for once Ava had explained why she used Zoe’s life details, and if just for once Zoe had asked Ava what it means to be a fiction writer, this may not have happened.
Warburton leads the chase. Some scenery reminded me of old Bond movies and one sentence, “Turn out your pockets” took me back to the Harry Potter Series. We follow Zoe and Glenn as they race to save Ava from certain death as the people who kidnapped and kept her, are disturbed enough to play deadly games in the name of science.
The fun part of reading this book was that throughout I could hear the author’s voice and see her write. Sarah Warburton is part of my Writers’ Group. Pre-pandemic times, we met twice a week. We chat, edit, write, review, and support each writer in our group. I can see her tongue sticking out when she concentrates, her glasses continuously flipping from her nose to the top of her head, and how she outlines scenes in her bullet journal. And yes, she continuously knits.
If Sarah had not been part of my Writers’ Group, this review would have been exactly the same minus the personal paragraph above. I ordered and paid for the book myself. This is my honest opinion. Highly recommended reading!
Sarah, I am very proud of you and look forward to reading your next book. My other book reviews are here.