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Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington
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Sisters of Mercy (edition 2012)

by Caroline Overington

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134723,089 (3.42)3
Member:WenonaSchool
Title:Sisters of Mercy
Authors:Caroline Overington
Info:North Sydney, N.S.W. : Random House Australia, 2012.
Collections:New Books, Australian voices, Belonging, Senior fiction
Rating:***
Tags:Australian stories, Sydney, missing persons, sisters, crime

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Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington

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I'd like to rate this as 3.5 as it's more than a 3 but not quite a 4. I enjoyed the book very much but found the ending just too frustratingly open-ended without some hints of what might have happened. The main character, Snow Delaney, is in prison charged with child abuse and neglect. A qualified nurse she had been fostering severely disabled children in a large house belonging to an elderly women who was a close neighbour and surrogate aunt of her partner Mark. Mark has a gambling addiction and spends most of the money Snow receives for fostering the children. When a journalist Jack Fawcett writes a story about Snow she starts to write to him from prison to tell him the 'real' story and the story unfolds slowly in a progressive series of letters.
Snow has also been implicated in the disappearance of her newly discovered sister Agnes, whose presence in the UK was only discovered when Snow's father died. Agnes travels to Australia to meet Snow but after becoming distressed at what she observes in Snow's home disappears the following morning before her flight home. Although there are some shocking revelations in the book, little more is revealed about Agnes' disappearance. Her body is never found and there is no consideration of other explanations, such as the possibility that Snow's partner could have murdered her without Snow's involvement.
The author is a journalist and I very much enjoyed her clear writing style in telling this story. The story unfolds easily and naturally and the lack of empathy displayed by Snow is quite chilling. However, I think the conclusion was a bit flat and the novel could have been more gripping in places, with a few more hints of what might have happened to Agnes. ( )
  cscott | Jan 7, 2014 |
Caroline Overington writes books about the darker side of life and I have enjoyed her books so far but this one I did not like as much. The main character Snow discovers at the reading of her father's will that she has a sister Agnes that she knew nothing about and that her father has left half his money to her. Agnes says that she does not want her share of the money but comes to Australia from England to meet Snow. However she does not make it onto the plane home. At the start of the book we have Snow in prison (for what crime we do not really know) and her sister missing. Snow turns to journalist Jack Fawcett protesting her innoncence in a series of letters. It is not until the end of the book that we find out why she is in prison and the end is more, and more upsetting that what you could have imagined at the beginning. I did not like the character of Snow because I could not condone her actions, and the ending of the book was for me unsatisfying which is why I have not rated it very high. I have read reviews where people really liked it and liked the character of Snow but that was not me, so only an average rating. ( )
  kiwifortyniner | Feb 17, 2013 |
This book has an interesting structure: the main narration is by Jack "Tap" Fawcett, a journalist who has been following the disappearance of Agnes Moore, a British visitor to Sydney, and the trial of her sister Snow Delaney for cruelty to the disabled children in her care.

Through letters from prison to Jack, Snow recounts her life story to the point where her father dies and she discovers through the lawyer who is the executor of her estate that she has an older sister to whom she must offer half of her considerable inheritance.

The author uses world and Australian events such as "the dismissal" of Gough Whitlam in 1975 to place the novel in time. Agnes Moore, born in London in 1940, was evacuated to Australia during the war and spent her childhood in Western Australia before returning to Britain as a young woman. I did wonder at the time of reading how effective this historical setting technique would be for non- Australian readers.

Because of the recounting of Snow's life the novel takes a long time to get to the disappearance of Agnes, Snow's older sister who has come from England to Sydney to meet her. I'm not sure we really needed all that back story. Snow's life is described through her letters to Jack, and in the light of later revelations, we do have to question her reliability as a narrator.

Although an afterword tells us SISTERS OF MERCY is entirely a work of fiction, I couldn't help wondering how much of the truly horrific things that Snow Delaney does have come from cases the author has come across as a journalist.

At the end of the novel there is a set of questions for reading groups intended to help them get more out of the novel by considering some aspects and incidents in depth. I read SISTERS OF MERCY for my face to face reading group and unfortunately I'll be absent for the discussion. I'd love to be a fly on the wall because there is really plenty to talk about. It is a novel that frustrated, horrified, and captivated me all at the same time.

This is the first book I've read by this Australian author. ( )
  smik | Dec 4, 2012 |
"Some people might be wondering what exactly Snow hoped to gain by writing to me, bit I reckon it was pretty obvious: I'm a reporter, and she wanted to convince people that she's innocent of everything she's ever been accused of doing."

Snow Delaney begins a year long correspondence with journalist Jack Fawcett from her prison cell shortly after being convicted on multiple counts of child abuse. Incensed by what she perceives to be sensationalist reporting on her life in his newspaper feature, 'The Secrets of Snow', she offers to tell Jack 'the facts', including the truth of what she knows about her missing sister, Agnes Moore.
Through Snow's letters and Jack's investigation into her claims, Sisters of Mercy reveals a complex web of lies, deceit, betrayal and the absence of mercy.

Initially it's tempting to sympathise with Snow who is imprisoned, alone and resolute in her claims of innocence. Snow is a very disconcerting character, she seems rather ordinary but slowly Overington reveals a deeply disturbed woman whose grasp on reality is warped by a distressing lack of humanity. As a trained nurse who is a foster mother and respite carer for severely disabled children she presents as a tirelessly selfless member of the community. The first hint of her true nature comes when Snow discovers the existence of an older sister, Agnes Moore, abandoned as a toddler in wartime England by her parents who were unmarried at the time.

Interestingly, Overington approaches the disappearance of Agnes from an oblique angle where the missing woman is a catalyst for Snow's story rather than the focus of the plot. It is a little disorientating to expect the novel to develop one way only for it to be twisted into something quite different. It may not appeal to everyone, but the approach is intriguing and revitalises a familiar trope.

What Jack surmises contrasts sharply with Snow's perceptions and emphasises the ambiguity of 'truth' in the absence of incontrovertible evidence. Jack's narrative serves as a witness of sorts to counter Snow's impassioned claims of innocence and champion her alleged victims.

Sisters of Mercy is a provocative novel by an accomplished storyteller. I found it to be discomforting yet engaging and I am happy to recommend it. ( )
  shelleyraec | Nov 2, 2012 |
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This is the haunting story of two sisters - one has vanished, the other is behind bars. Snow Delaney was born a generation and a world away from her sister, Agnes. Until recently, neither even knew of the other's existence. They came together only for the reading of their father's will - when Snow discovered, to her horror, that she was not the sole beneficiary of his large estate. Now Snow is in prison and Agnes is missing, disappeared in the eerie red dust that blanketed Sydney from dawn on September 23, 2009. With no other family left, Snow turns to crime journalist Jack Fawcett, protesting her innocence in a series of defiant letters from prison. Has she been unfairly judged? Or will Jack's own research reveal a story even more shocking than the one Snow wants to tell?… (more)

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