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Wednesday 6 September 2023

‘Sisters’ by Judith Barrow

Published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press,
26 January 2023.
978-1-91290576-8 (PB)

Judith Barrow may not write conventional crime fiction, but you can be sure of one thing when you pick up one of her books: a cracking good story, about people you can relate to and come to root for or the opposite. There’s crime of a less headline-making kind than the usual string of murders, and there’s plenty of that worst crime of all – man’s inhumanity to man. Or woman, as the case may be.

Sisters is pretty much what it says on the cover: a story of two sisters. Mandy and Angie are close in childhood but torn apart by a horrific accident followed by a web of lies, then thrust into each other’s path again by death in the family. When it begins, Mandy is thirteen and still into childlike pursuits, Angie is sixteen and thinks it’s grown-up to wear make-up and chase boys. They take their baby brother for a walk; Angie shows off to the local poseur and loses control of the pram on a steep hill. The baby dies, and instead of owning up, Angie lets Mandy take the blame, causing a rift which blows the family asunder.  

That’s only the beginning, of course. The girls grow up geographically as well as emotionally distanced, and the very different life paths they follow could be interpreted as each getting her just deserts. After the accident they don’t meet again for over twenty years, and only then when their mother dies. And that is when things become very interesting indeed for them both, and even more so for the reader. 

It’s all about the characters, of course, especially the two sisters. Mandy, who changes her name to Lisa as a way to slough off the past, is nurtured into a good education and career by a loving aunt and uncle. Angie’s guilt catches up with her big time, eventually pushing her into an abusive marriage. Both are portrayed as rounded personalities, and Judith Barrow shows great skill in gaining the reader’s sympathy for Angie as much as Lisa. 

The girls’ parents, especially their frail father, supportive Aunt Barb and Uncle Chris, Angie’s sociopathic husband Stephen, Ben the reporter who finds the nefarious significance of a contentious strip of land... all of them feel real, and draw the reader into the story, as do Barrow’s accounts of the run-down Yorkshire town, the pretty Welsh seaside village and the squalid squat in Manchester.

The book soon becomes the kind you can’t put down; when I reached the end, I looked at the clock and found it was past two in the morning. Judith Barrow had done it again.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Judith Barrow originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David's College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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