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The Missing Sister by Elle Marr is a thrilling debut, set in Paris, where one twin sister has seemingly vanished, and the other must scramble to solve the mystery and find her sister before the danger turns deadly.
Elle Marr is far from being the first author to choose the Catacombs of Paris as her setting. And yet, in her debut, The Missing Sister, she manages to create a very atmospheric thriller with gripping scenes that will cause shivers.
The opening scene sets the tone, with picture-perfect details that evoke feelings of arriving in Paris with Shayna.
“Nous sommes arrivés, mademoiselle.” The cab driver speaks to me without turning, wide charcoal eyes peering curiously through the rearview mirror. He yanks the parking brake. Stubby fingers push buttons on a digital console displaying the cost of my trip from the airport in euros. The route to Montmartre passed in a blur despite unrelenting morning traffic. Children run wild on the sidewalk beside us, high on summer vacation, fast food wrappers trailing their bands of twos and threes. The urban doorways of this northern pocket of Paris alternate between adult film rental businesses and glass panes leading to residential apartments. Voices rise above the engine’s rumble, words in French carrying through the window; a couple examines an accordion on a collapsible table.
And why is Shayna in Paris? She receives an email saying that her twin sister, Angela, is dead and jumps on a plane to go recognize Angela’s body and sort her apartment.
But is that the real reason she is there?
When she arrives in Paris, she meets Sebastian, who was in a relationship with her sister.
Things quickly get complicated as she makes a mysterious discovery: on the wall of Angela’s apartment, Shayna finds a message written in the secret (and super smart) language the twins developed when they were kids. It says, Alive. Trust no one.
So where is Angela? And is she really alive? Not even trusting the police, Shayna decides to investigate by herself.
As the story proceeds, similar questions multiply—especially as, little by little, through flashbacks (mostly from emails exchanged by the sisters), more about the half-Chinese/half-American twins and their relationship is revealed. And as more is revealed, the twins’ mental health becomes worrisome.
The signs are on the wall, and no one can be trusted.
I really enjoyed how the author manages to build mistrust with all the narratives and characters, including the seemingly good Concierge Madame Chang. This is done very progressively. What seems rather clear and obvious at the beginning ends up getting quite muddled and dark.
The Missing Sister is a strong debut, with evocative descriptions of ambiance, people (with excellent portraits of the uniqueness of each sister), and places (for instance the Saint-Denis neighborhood). Marr transports readers to some weird locations as she ratchets up the tension, and her attention to detail will undoubtedly leave some feeling claustrophobic while exploring the Catacombs.
I also appreciated the psychological exploration of twins, as well as another type of person, which I will leave undefined to avoid spoilers.
We have always needed each other to be our best.
There’s a lot to investigate and discover in Shayna’s week in Paris, as danger continues to intensify. A lot of clues turn into dead ends, though I felt Shayna gave up on some clues too quickly in favor of the next. This did create a sense of urgency, however, and the end is definitely satisfying. Beware, though, there is a very intense scene in Chapter 32.
VERDICT: The Missing Sister is a very promising debut—atmospheric, gripping, and set in Paris. In other words, the perfect ingredients for a satisfying result.