A late-season blizzard batters 1879 Albany, New York, and the blinding white seems to have swallowed up two young sisters, Emma and Claire O’Donnell. The snow cripples the city for days, and when it finally begins to melt, Emma and Claire are still missing. Not sure whether the girls are alive or dead, Drs. Mary Sutter and William Stipp, close friends of the family, cease their search and try to continue living without them. When the news of the disappearances reaches Mary’s mother, Amelia, and niece, Elizabeth, who are abroad in Paris, they return home on the next ship.
Spring comes to Albany and brings a flood as the frozen river breaks up, just as the town seems to crack in two along with it. Marriages are strained, sons grow suspicious of fathers, business dealings are not what they seem—and that’s just in the Van der Veer family, one of the city’s most prosperous. At the center of it all, the disappearance of the “winter sisters” continues to captivate Albany’s residents, from prostitutes and police to lumber barons and society matrons. Allegations swirl, and the truth eventually proves stranger than anyone had imagined—or feared.
In Winter Sisters, Robin Oliveira (My Name Is Mary Sutter) spins a long, twisting tale, mixing amended historical facts with the intrigue of a true crime drama. Though her characterizations do descend into well-trodden molds at times, her women are strength and courage personified. Many of the men (except for a phenomenal few) fall short at best and, at worst, commit reprehensible acts. But in Mary, Amelia, Elizabeth and others, Oliveira shows the tenacity of women. They rise to meet challenges with an unwavering sense of morality and duty. And Oliveira holds the reader in her thrall through each suspenseful turn.