The Stolen Sisters

by Louise Jensen

‘That was when she saw a glint of silver. A sharp point pressed against her neck. Instantly the bottom fell out of her world, her body slackened. She had to stay alive for her sisters.’

The Stolen Sisters (2020) is the sixth of Louise Jensen’s psychological thrillers. It follows the same structure that has made the novels bestsellers, switching the narrative from past to present to create the tension.

As children, Carly, Marie and Leah are kidnapped by two strangers and held in a derelict former army camp frequented by drug-users and down-and-outs. Carly is thirteen, her twin half-sisters eight. Tied up in foul conditions, and half-starved on a diet of Coca-Cola and potato crisps/chips while a nationwide search goes on to find them, they eventually escape and are returned home. However, the trauma of their ordeal remains  and dramatically affects their lives.

A book deal around the tenth anniversary earned them some money but none of them has got over the experience. Another ten years have passed. Leah is married to George, and they have a small son, Archie. She has OCD and is haunted by the past. Although she is receiving counselling, it isn’t enough. No only that, but as the anniversary of her abduction nears, she receives anonymous letters counting down to the day. One of the kidnappers has died, but another has been released from prison. Leah believes he is stalking her and imagines she sees him in all sorts of situation – in a car, in the street, everywhere.

‘Carly jerked her head towards the corner, averting her eyes, unfairly cross with Leah. The stench in the room was already unbearable. She couldn’t breathe.’

Marie is a travelling actress who has turned to drink and drugs to suppress her memories. She plans to sell their side of the story to a TV journalist – which the others do not want her to do. There are secrets which neither Leah nor Carly wish to be made public.

Carly has no children and has never been married. She finds it impossible to have a relationship with a man. Instead, her life revolves round her sisters and her nephew.

As the anniversary arrives and passes, we begin to see glimpses of the back story: who was really behind the abduction, and why? We also suspect that George has secrets too. Leah’s OCD is driving a wedge between them, but there may be more to it than that. Is he maybe having an affair and, if so, with whom?

‘Beetles. Archie’s tray is crawling with beetles. Instantly I am back in the cold and the damp and the dark. Insects in my hair, my mouth. Sharp feet scuttling over my skin. One plummeting down my throat, meeting the scream that rose.’ [Leah]

Louise Jensen is great with suspense and tension, and the unravelling of the plot comes as a surprise, even if one has guessed something of what the climax might reveal about the characters and their hang-ups.

I have enjoyed reading all of Jensen’s thrillers, although I did find this one slightly less satisfying than the others. The back story (the “then”) is told in third person past tense from Carly’s point of view (apart from a few short chapters towards the end), which works fine. Leah is the principal narrator in the “now”, and she tells her story in first person present tense, which also works. However, there are contributions from Marie and George too and there I found the combinations of tense and person a little confusing.

In spite of that slight negativity, I found the novel well worth reading.


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