The true test of great plot development is the mystery. Karen Dionne does a masterful job of creating a mystery with plenty of twists and turns in “The Wicked Sister” recently released by Putnam.

Dionne, who lives in suburban Detroit, chose Upper Peninsula Michigan for the setting for her story that pits Rachel, who has been voluntarily confined to an asylum after witnessing the deaths of her parents Peter and Jenny, against her sister Diana, a beautiful but sinister psychopath who has been afflicted with antisocial behavior since birth. Rachel believes she was responsible for killing her mother with a rifle, only to have her father use the same weapon to take his own life.

When Rachel is released from the asylum, we hope she can find peace at her former home with her sister Diana and Aunt Charlotte. Not all is as idyllic as one would hope, however. Rachel and Diana’s wildlife biologist parents Peter and Jenny had invited Jenny’s sister Charlotte into their sprawling 10-bedroom home set on 4,000 acres of Upper Peninsula Michigan wilderness, a decision later resulting in tragedy. Through contrasting “now” and “then” points of view from Rachel and Jenny, we come to realize that Diana’s psychosis is far more serious than anyone realizes, and in time her parents are ready to commit her involuntarily.

At the same time, Rachel begins to uncover the real truth behind her parents’ murders. While at first she believed she was responsible, the real blame becomes apparent as she begins to relive events from her past that clarify her own role as well as that of her sister and aunt.

Dionne does a remarkable job of creating a sense of place in the UP. The setting becomes as much of a character as the people. The animals Rachel calls on to help her cope with her search for the truth, and later her flight to safety, take on human attributes that transcend young Rachel’s imagination and find validity of Rachel’s mind as an adult.

Dionne also paints her characters with a broad palette. Every character has good and bad points, often making us wonder where the true blame lies for three murders that come before the stunning conclusion.

This is a must-read for mystery fans, or anyone with an interest in UP Michigan.

Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. His author page is

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