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Author Lucinda Riley dies after cancer battle during which she penned five novels

The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley

For seven years, bestselling author Lucinda Riley has taken us to all corners of the world alongside seven adopted sisters in search of their true heritage.

Travelling with the Seven Sisters has been an unforgettable journey of startling discoveries and thrilling wonders but, following the shock announcement of Lucinda’s untimely death at the age of 55 on Friday (June 11), readers have now learned from her heartbroken but proud family that for the past four years this gifted author had also been battling cancer.

What makes the feat even more remarkable is that during those years of intense treatment, Lucinda penned five novels, with the seventh in her standout series, The Missing Sister, published just two weeks ago and already at number one in book charts across the world.  

It was the Seven Sisters series – optioned as a multi-season Hollywood TV series – that turned the author born in the small village of Drumbeg in Northern Ireland into a writing phenomenon and set the seal on her 30-year career. 

And most poignantly, it is only several weeks since Lucinda announced that the much-anticipated story of the missing sister, Merope, would not now be the last book and that she was planning to write Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt, the final chapter of this epic series.

If The Missing Sister is to be journey’s end for the seven very different D’Aplièse sisters – each adopted as a baby by the elusive Swiss billionaire, known to them as Pa Salt, who left intriguing clues to their hidden heritage after his mysterious death – then what a swansong it proves to be.

It’s a tumultuous, globe-travelling story that takes in Ireland’s fierce fight for independence one hundred years ago, and is written straight from Lucinda’s heart… with her love for the country of her birth shining from every page, and much of the action set near her home in a valley of West Cork. 

The six D’Aplièse sisters – raised by their adopted father Pa Salt at his luxurious home, Atlantis, on the shore of Lake Geneva – have each been on their own incredible journey to discover their heritage since his mysterious death, but they still have one question left unanswered… who and where is the seventh sister Merope?

Author Lucinda Riley

Following the family lawyer Georg Hoffman’s revelation that he may have found their elusive sister, the two eldest sisters Maia and Ally discover that all they have to go on is the address of a vineyard in New Zealand, plus a drawing of an unusual star-shaped emerald ring.

It’s just the start of a global race against time to find Merope so that she can join her sisters on a sailing trip to lay a wreath at the spot on the Aegean Sea where experienced yachtswoman Ally last saw Pa Salt’s boat almost exactly a year ago.

Deciding that CeCe, who lives in Australia, is the sister who is closest, the sisters, who are now gathering at Atlantis, send her to covertly investigate with her partner, Chrissie.

And it’s at The Vinery, a successful vineyard in the Gibbston Valley, that CeCe and Chrissie meet Mary-Kate McDougal, adopted daughter of Mary McDougal, the woman, they learn, who has the emerald ring that can confirm for certain if Mary-Kate is the missing Merope.

But Mary has only recently embarked on a world tour after the death of her husband Jock and as each sister takes their turn to trace her, they slowly start to unearth a story of love, strength and sacrifice, a tale that began almost one hundred years ago in Ireland where Nuala Murphy and other brave young women of the Irish Republican Army’s female volunteer group, Cumann na mBan, risk everything in the cause for independence.

Meanwhile, the elusive Mary manages to slip through the sisters’ fingers. Will they ever find her… or are they destined to say a last goodbye to Pa Salt without the absent sister?

Weaving together her trademark past-and-present plot lines, the tantalising air of mystery which has bound together this enthralling series, and the heart-stopping emotions which have earned her a readership of millions, Lucinda brings us the dramatic story of the hitherto unaccountably missing Merope.

The hunt to track down the sister who doesn’t want to be found takes us back into the lives of each of the sisters whose secrets have unfolded over six previous books, and as we learn of the joys and frustrations that have marked out their forward paths, we join a cat-and-mouse hunt across the globe from New Zealand to Canada, England to France, and finally to Ireland.

In true Lucinda style, The Missing Sister is filled with painstaking research, exquisitely drawn characters, real history, exciting locations, exhilarating twists and turns, and the relationships and love stories that are the bedrock of what it is to be human.

‘Through the pain and the joy of the journey, I have learnt the most important lesson life can offer, and I am glad of it. The moment is all we have’ – Lucinda Riley RIP

Whilst each sister becomes involved in the hunt for Merope, this multi-faceted tale is also centred on Nuala, the brave young woman from a staunch Fenian family who are all prepared to lay down their lives for Ireland’s freedom.

The repercussions of Ireland’s political turmoil in the 1920s – a struggle which bears witness to tragedy, loss, love and hatred – will ripple down the years and ultimately impact on the lives of those born several decades later.

In many ways, The Missing Sister rounds off sweetly the mystery of Merope but it also leaves a few questions unanswered – questions that were ultimately to be answered in Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt – and which, Lucinda said in her Author’s Note, had been in her head for eight years.

It’s an enigma that may never now be solved but which adds an extra allure to this momentous series, a heartfelt, moving and fitting farewell from an author whose gift was to transport us from the pedestrian realities of our everyday life into worlds, past and present, which many of us can only ever dream about. 

But the final word must go to Lucinda who, say her family, loved life, and lived every moment to the full, and wrote: ‘Through the pain and the joy of the journey, I have learnt the most important lesson life can offer, and I am glad of it. The moment is all we have.’

(The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley, Macmillan, hardback, £20)

Pam Norfolk
Pam Norfolk has been writing book reviews for over ten years, including for the Wordsworth Trust. She has also worked as a reporter and sub-editor on regional and national newspapers.

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