Review: Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington

Title: Sisters of Mercy

Author: Caroline Overington

Published: Bantam/Random House November 2012

Synopsis: Sisters of Mercy 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?

Status: Read on October 21, 2012 {Courtesy Random House Australia}

My Thoughts:

“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.

Read my interview with Caroline Overington HERE and  a chance to win a copy of Sisters of Mercy

Sisters of Mercy is available to purchase

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 08:56:31

    I like the fact that this one seems to have a little of a twist. I think I’m demanding that of my fiction at the moment, being as jaded as I am! 🙂



  2. Trackback: AWW Feature and Giveaway: Q & A with Caroline Overington « book'd out
  3. 1girl2manybooks
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 18:19:22

    This one is definitely a must read for me!



  4. Elizabeth Lhuede
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 12:26:00

    It’s good to compare responses, Shelleyrae. I’ve just finished this now – like you, I found it very disconcerting.



  5. Trackback: What’s troubling about Sisters of Mercy – and why it’s worth reading « Devoted Eclectic
  6. Caroline Overington
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:57:40

    Believe me, I’m comparing all the different reader responses, too!
    It seems people are split into two camps: those who were drawn in by the mystery at the heart of Sisters of Mercy (why is Snow in jail? What crime has she supposedly committed?) … and those who are deeply troubled by the evil that lies at the heart of the book.
    I’ve never seen such an even split, in terms of reader response. It’s book lover v book lover, and blogger v blogger! – and I’m grateful for both. Thank you for reading.
    Kind regards,



  7. Sue
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 10:02:53

    So — What did happen to Agnes? Did I miss something?
    Despite this, I enjoyed “Sisters of Mercy”. At first I sympathised with Snow, but towards the end, I hoped she’d rot in prison. The mistreatment of children “in the system” is very topical!



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