Pinkerton’s Sister

Written by Peter Rushforth
Review by Colleen Quinn

For some people, a love of reading becomes a grand passion. Alice Pinkerton, housebound madwoman in turn-of-the-century New York City, lives entirely for books. In this erudite, compelling novel, Alice reflects on her life and all the people in it, from neighborhood characters and family members to Annie, her friend and housemaid, whose mysterious disappearance Alice understands all too well.

Alice doesn’t come across as insane. In fact, she seems to sound a voice of truth compared with the ignorance and hypocrisy of her neighbors, doctor, and family. But as she reveals more about herself and the experiences that have shaped her, all synthesized through the literary works that mean so much to her, the reader realizes that Alice has been driven mad. Finding out what happened to Alice makes this substantial novel fly by. Readers should be aware that the novel has nothing to do with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. All Alice shares with the detectives is their catchphrase: “We never sleep.” Alice is also vigilant, unable to ignore terrible things, unwilling to look away.

Bone up on your Brontës, and your Poe, Whitman, and Robert Louis Stevenson, for although the reminiscences of a traumatized madwoman on the brink of a brutal new therapy sound depressing, this novel is very sly and witty. Readers won’t want to miss any of the funny allusions and references that make this harrowing, tragic story such a joy to read.