Book Review: Cruel Sister by Deborah Grabien

Grabien’s fourth of the Haunted Ballad series sees the past and present juxtaposed in a tangle of love, murder and the enduring strength of bloodlines extending back to the realm of King Henry VIII. When Penny Wintercraft-Hawke’s brother Stephen returns to England after living for years in Hong Kong with his wife Tamsin, he decides to make use of an inherited piece of land on the Isles of Dogs by building a Tudor style mansion on the property. To be certain the details and feel are just right, Stephen hires Penny’s long time lover Ringan Laine, a successful folk musician and expert period restaurateur.

Ordinarily Ringan has few difficulties handling the demands of juggling duel careers but something about this particular project fills him with dread. Seeing the image of a terrified young woman running across the lot, the excited barking of a pack of dogs in the background are only the beginning of Ringan’s waking nightmares. Reliving progressively more intense, ancient nightmares Ringan witnesses two sisters in love with the same musician. One is so determined to win his heart, she drowns her sister on the Isle of Dogs and Ringan must endure witnessing the event, hearing the young woman’s dying pleas as though he were actually there. Until the mystery is unraveled, no one will find any peace on the Isle of Dogs, Ringan least of all, as he begins to merge with the personality of the ill fated musician.

The blending of past and current events while Ringan’s musical group is in the midst of recording a new album allows Grabien to seamlessly tie in haunting song lyrics worthy of Loreena McKennitt. Tension builds evenly throughout the subplots to a gratifying ending that avoids the overdone feel so common in this genre.


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