Book Review

Saint X

I received an ARC of this book from Bookish First. I am voluntarily providing an honest review.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin was an interesting and thought provoking read.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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 will forever be marked by the same tragedy.

The book starts with a birds-eye view of the area, slowly zooming in closer and closer. Initially, the only characters who are named are Claire, Alison, Clive, and Edwin, but I guess those are really the only ones that are relevant in the beginning.

Alison is a complex character, although we don’t really get to know much about her all at once. Who she was is revealed in drips and drabs, most often filtered through the eyes of other characters.

Claire is really the central figure in the story, and it’s hard not to like her. As a young child, she doesn’t really fit in well. She’s got some OCD-like tendencies, and as she gets older, she grows out of it and becomes a lot less socially awkward. But she’s always got the specter of tragedy hanging over her shoulder — I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to grow up as the younger sister of someone who was murdered, and have it stay an unsolved case. After crossing paths with Clive, she starts down a spiraling path of obsession; both with finding out more about her sister, and getting closer to Clive in hopes of finding out what really happened on the tragic night when her sister died. Claire finds out some truths about herself along the way.

“Looking back, I can see that my pursuit of Clive Richardson was beginning to be about something more than gathering clues, that I was falling under the gip of something I could not control.”

The death of Alison had a ripple effect, shattering more lives than just those closest to her. I didn’t fully realize the impact, until reading the short excerpts between the chapters. The shifting points of view gave insight into how the events of a single night affected so many people.

The story was beautifully rendered, with incredibly well-rounded characters. As I got deeper into the story and Claire’s obsession, there was a growing sense of impending disaster. I realized that I wasn’t really sure of anything that I had been convinced of at the start.

There were more than a few reminders of the Natalee Holloway story, and it was quite disturbing. Altogether, it was a harsh look at grief, loss, race, privilege, and psychology, and an emotional, incredible story.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 3

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