Winter Sisters

by Robin Oliveira
Viking, February 2018, $27

When a freak spring snowstorm buries the city of Albany, New York, in the year 1879, Emma O’Donnell, age ten, and her little sister Claire, age seven, leave school, heading for home. But they never get there, and their parents, David, a lumberyard worker, and Bonnie, a hatmaker, are both killed in the storm. The girls’ godparents, doctors Mary Sutter Stipp and William Stipp, who met as Civil War surgeons, refuse to give up searching for the girls—despite discouragement from the police and others who insist that the missing girls are also dead.

Mary’s niece Elizabeth and her mother, Amelia, return to Albany for the O’Donnell’s funeral from France, where Elizabeth has been studying violin at the Paris Conservatory. At the funeral, Elizabeth encounters Jakob Van der Veer, the son of Gerritt and Viola Van der Veer, Albany’s wealthiest family and leading members of its high society, and a budding romance begins between the two young people.

In time the true fate of the missing girls becomes known, revealing evil secrets that lead to a scandal that threatens to expose the city’s corruption, disrupt the highest levels of society, ruin the Stipps’ medical practice, and tear apart the young sweethearts.

Winter Sisters is a historical family saga, a compelling thriller, and a courtroom drama, weaving an original mystery story that is by turns suspenseful, shocking, and touching. It also features unforgettable and inspiring heroines in Mary and Elizabeth, as well as a memorable hero in Jakob. Author Robin Oliveira deals with issues such as sexual assault and official corruption that feel contemporary in their relevance, but explores them within a believable historical context. Winter Sisters takes its time to establish characters and setting, then builds to an astonishing climax and satisfying conclusion.

Jean Gazis
Teri Duerr
February 2018