In Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train,” two strangers agree to exchange murders; each will kill the person the other wants dead, and ensure they — the obvious suspect — has an airtight alibi. With no possible connection between killer and victim, both get exactly what they want. It’s the perfect crime, and such a simple, genius concept for a psychological thriller.
Katherine Kovacic boldly iterates on Highsmith’s conceit in “Seven Sisters.” Under the counsel of their enigmatic therapist, a group of grief-stricken women decide to take justice into their own hands. Exhausted and enraged by the failure of the criminal justice system, which repeatedly abandons victims of domestic violence, these women — who have each suffered through the loss of loved ones at the hands of abusive and manipulative men — take it upon themselves to avenge the murderer in each other’s lives.
Kovacic derives maximum suspense from her cast’s murderous machinations, and executions of their plans, which don’t always transpire as predicted. Tensions mount, and there is a creeping sense of dread, as they begin to question the morality of their actions; as certain members of their seven start to get cold feet; as a police detective starts connecting the dots and begins closing in.
“Seven Sisters” is a page-turner in the truest sense — I raced through it in a couple of sittings. Kovacic’s intense portrayal of women tormented by loss and the ineptitude of the system that’s supposed to protect us, as well as lingering moral questions about social and individual responsibility makes it an early contender for crime novel of the year.