A thought provoking mystery that not only alters the narrative but reveals the truth in so many ways to the reader. It reveals how class and privilege can really depend on the consequences one faces. Yet all the while being interesting, the further the novel progressed.
Note: This review contains spoilers.
Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort - are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.
Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth - not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.
As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.
Thank you to Pan MacMillan, who provided a paperback copy to review! The book cover comprises my favorite colors, and it only made it better when the book was one of my favorite genres!
The book starts off in Saint X, a fictional and well-built island in the Caribbean. Told in third person, it introduces readers to the victim, suspect and witnesses—merely a week before the death of Alison Thomas. I’m not used to the slow burn of a mystery/thriller, but I enjoyed it. I needed to know what happened next and why there were so many witnesses and what was the motive, etc. Kudos to Shaitkin who pulled me in by the first chapter. I loved how years later, each witness was brought back somehow or mentioned and how Alison’s death affected them. This book was reflective and made me think of how death can impact not only the relatives of the victim but the people who were there. It sets in stone who else might be affected by the death of someone they barely knew, or only knew for a brief time.
You know you've gone too long without a vacation when you start seeing friendliness as some kind of problem. - pg 21
Apart from the mystery and rising tension of waiting for that moment to happen, there’s also a theme introduced. At Indigo Bay, the resort on Saint X, there only seems to be wealthy people against the locals who work there. The narrative is told how annoying the visitors can become—judgmental because of being in a distinct place. A place where they know their light skin can go a long way. A place where they can flaunt their money any way they want and think the locals must think of them as such kind people. Yet the author shows how the privileged people only do it for their own satisfaction and being. Knowing that they’ve done something kind to someone of color so they can go back home to their lush lives and tell their friends.
Yet the story is only beginning. With Alison missing on the night before they have to leave—she’s found, eventually dead with Edwin and Clive, two suspects and workers at Indigo Bay being the last ones to see her.
It takes readers to Alison’s little sister, Claire, and her life after her sister’s death. It was sad to read how Claire grew up without her sister. Yet sadder that her parents craved Alison more. There was a point in the book where Claire felt like her parents only had her because they wanted another Alison. They wanted to relive those moments.
Her family moved to Pasadena shortly after Alison’s death, but years later, Claire moved back to New York. That’s where she stumbles upon Clive Richardson. One suspect. Clive could be in his forties with Claire in her twenties. She goes by her middle name, Emily. That’s when the story officially starts. Claire becomes attached to Clive and follows him, night after night. That’s when she dives deep into her sister’s death. Articles and websites brought up, it reveals phone calls made and photographs. Claire learns more about her sister when her mother sends her a bunch of cassettes. Alison’s diary. It’s like she barely knew her sister at seven.
We forget how much submerged darkness there is around us at every moment. We forget until we're forced to remember. - pg 91
From what I gathered, Alison thrived for the approval of everyone she met. She wanted people to notice her. She was a perfectionist yet tried ever so eagerly to slip through the cracks of who she appeared to people. She was a privileged Caucasian girl who got everything she wanted. She thought she differed from everyone and was special. Yet the more Claire finds out about her sister through secondary resources, the more she hates and loves Alison.
Alison and Claire are similar in many ways. They don’t see how easy it is for them. They want to be different; they seek a deeper meaning to life. A purpose. That’s why Alison did the things she did on that vacation. Claire thought it was her destiny to figure out Clive Richardson. Yet the contrast of their lives played a deeper meaning. After that night of Alison’s disappearance, Clive faced the consequences. Poor Clive, I really sympathized with him from start to end. Long before Alison, Clive had a child with Sara. They were young and Clive promised he’d take care and provide. Yet no matter what Clive did, it wasn’t enough.
That night changed everything for him. Alison changed everything for him. A rich, spoiled girl ruined his life. He got arrested for drugs, spent time in prison, then went off to New York for work when he couldn’t find any in Saint X. That’s when his life began in New York. He moved from place to place and settled as a taxi driver. He still sent money to Sara. I couldn’t tell Sara’s emotions. She only seemed to throw it in Clive’s face that he had a child to pay for. I’m glad he snapped one day. Three years of being in New York and Edwin marries Sara. That hit the most. I didn’t know what to feel. I always wondered about Edwin. Yet when I read that, I wished he’d disappear again. Partially all of this was Edwin’s fault. He dragged Clive from day one.
Years later Edwin dies of cancer and Clive has to live with regret of not saying goodbye to his best friend. That night of Alison’s death impacted everyone. Yet the ways of living and privilege surrounding it shaped the story into something that was real. This story touches on privilege, race and wealth. How far it can get you, how your lifestyle changes and how you perceive things.
Once Clive confronts Claire and tells his side of the story, you really grasp onto who Alison was in her last moments. There’s a sense of understanding of how Clive and Edwin drifted the way they did. The statements and articles of past witnesses come into place. How the boy closer to Alison’s age, lives with regret to this day. The reaction of the people who found Alison’s body. Everything suddenly fell into place. Reading it seemed comforting, knowing it’s the end and you’re about to receive answers. Yet it wasn’t the answers Claire expected. She doesn’t expect Clive to disappear from her life so quick just as he appeared. She doesn’t expect to move on and still think about who her sister really was.
To mourn a girl with infinite futures was to mourn infinitely. - pg 88
Saint X made it onto my list of favorite books and I’ll recommend it to other mystery/thriller lovers! With such a beautiful and realistic world-building, thoughtful plot and driven characters, I’m happy to give this four out of five stars! See more information on Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin here: https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/alexis-schaitkin/saint-x/9781529014303