Title: Saint X
Author: Alexis Schaitkin
Published: February 25th 2020
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommended by Entertainment Weekly, included in Good Morning America’s 20 Books We’re Excited for in 2020 & named as one of Vogue’s Best Books to Read This Winter, Bustle’s Most Anticipated Books of February 2020, and O Magazine’s 14 of the Best Books to Read This February!
Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister Alison vanishes from the luxury resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X on the last night of her family’s vacation. Several days later Alison’s naked 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. It’s national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved, but for Claire’s family there is only the sad return home to broken lives.
Years later, riding in a New York City taxicab, Claire recognizes the name on the cabbie’s licence, Clive Richardson – her driver is one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. The fateful encounter sets her on an obsessive pursuit of the truth, not only what happened on the night of Alison’s death, but the no less elusive question of exactly who was this sister she was barely old enough to know: 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 uncover the truth, an unlikely intimacy develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by a tragedy.
Alexis Schaitkin’s Saint X is a flawlessly drawn and deeply moving story that hurtles to a devastating end.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin is this Massachusetts based author’s debut novel. The story of a murder in a tranquil and tropical idyll, Saint X looks at the long lasting impacts of an unsolved crime. Linking in themes of power, privilege, status, class, risk, opportunism and fixation, Saint X is an aggregate tale that has the capacity to test all readers.
The beautiful Caribbean island of Saint X is a place of escape for annual family getaways. This sought after holiday destination is where teenager Alison Thomas meets her final fate on the last day of her family’s vacation. Days after she vanishes, Alison’s body is discovered in an isolated spot on the island. Two workers from the resort where Alison was staying are taken in for questioning. Suspected to have been involved in Alison’s death, they are arrested, but with a lack of hard evidence to link them directly to the crime, they are set free. Despite Alison’s murder becoming a high profile investigation, beamed across television sets and the media, it becomes a cold case. Alison’s murder shatters her family and the effects of Alison’s shocking death has long lasting implications. No one is more affected by Alison’s death than her little sister Claire. Now an adult, Claire has forged a new life for herself in New York. A chance meeting with one of the original suspects of her sister’s murder sends Claire in a spin. This encounter sets in motion a renewed obsession uncover the truth behind her sister’s death. In hunting for the answers to her sister’s murder, Claire discovers more about her elusive older sister.
Full of speculation, suspense, tension, intrigue and emotional drama, Saint X is the thrilling first novel from Alexis Schaitkin. I took a while for me to settle into the unparalleled writing style of Alexis Schaitkin and I’m not entirely convinced I ever completely connected to this novel. However, I will say I was interested and compelled to carry on with this slow burn style thriller.
I can’t say I have a read a book before set in the Caribbean. It is a bucket list locale of sorts, that I would love to visit one day (though Saint X is fictional). Full points to Schaitkin for setting her scene. From the very beginning we feel like an extra holiday maker on the Thomas family’s vacation. There are some descriptive and atmospheric scenes that depict the exotic beauty of this setting base. There is beauty, but also treachery lurking. There is a clear status divide between the privileged families that holiday at Saint X and the workers from the local community. Schaitkin uses this divide to highlight class differences.
Much of the novel is about unfurling the unfortunate victim of this tale’s life and final movements. We hear a great deal about Alison through her sister Claire’s investigations. In these present day sequences we learn how Claire and her family have been haunted by Alison’s death. We also glean more about the feelings of the accused and how Alison’s death has left its mark in their lives too. Saint X explores the reverberations of a murder and an unsolved one at that. Alison’s family members and those surrounding the murder case can’t move on from Alison’s death. It clearly inhabits their thoughts for a long time after the event. Connected to this is Schaitkin’s exploration of grief and loss, which is touched on with insight.
Schaitkin’s characterisation is clear and each protagonist is explored well. I appreciated the present day sequences featuring Claire’s dogged search for the truth behind her sister’s death. The plot itself is astute and well-paced. The crux of the book, which revolves around the shocking crime and unsolved murder of a young woman in her prime, is what enticed me to read on. I did find the organisation of Saint X muddled and at times confusing. Schaitkin merges Alison’s open murder case with narrative breaks such as media articles, messages, police statements, books about the crime, tape transcripts and a subsequent narrator. These work to both the detriment and the advantage of the book. In some respects it provides further insight into this crime, but on the other hand it distracts the reader from the main narrative. I can understand the author’s use of these alternative devices to flesh out the story and heighten the intrigue factor. In the end, I wasn’t entirely sure how comfortable I felt about the closing of Saint X and the approach of the novel as a whole. However, the writing is something that stands out from the crowd, an uncommon style of penmanship that I have not encountered before.
Alexis Schaitkin provides a multi focal inspection into murder, loss, death, tragedy, family relations, obsession, class, race, wealth, poverty and the individual. Saint X is an unyielding and steadfast novel, defined by an individual style of writing. I would be interested to see how Schaitkin applies her unique writing approach to subsequent novels.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin was published on 25th February 2020 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Saint X, Alexis Schaitkin, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.