Palm trees. Smooth sand. Salty hair. Sun-kissed skin. Warm breezes. Frozen cocktails. Fish tacos. I decided to jump into this book to feel like I was in the middle of a tropical island. The tropical vibes were definitely there, especially near the beginning of the novel. However, that’s where the book stopped meeting my expectations.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin tells the story of sisters Claire and Alison. When Claire was only seven years old, her sister Alison went missing during a family vacation to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. A few days after she goes missing, Alison is found dead in a remote area. Two local men are accused of the crime, but ultimately the evidence is slim and they are released. Years later, Claire is living in New York and a true coincidence thrusts one of the accused men back into her life. This sparks her desire to understand who her sister really was and what happened on Saint X years ago.
First, let’s talk about expectations. In addition to wanting a setting full of everything that screams tropical paradise, I wanted a thriller. Now, I don’t consider myself someone who is picky when it comes to thrillers. I love realistic thrillers, crazy thrillers, slow-burns, heart-pounders etc. While it was marketed as one, this book is definitely not a thriller. Yes, there is an element of mystery surrounding Alison’s death, but majority of the book focuses on character background. We learn a lot about how Claire and her parents chose to cope after Alison’s death. We learn about the childhoods of the two accused men. And of course, we learn a lot about who Alison really was at the time she went missing. The mystery drives the story forward, but ultimately plays a very small role. If anything, I would consider this more of a character study. I did enjoy the short interludes between chapters that illustrated how others, such as guests at the resort, were impacted by Alison’s death.
I also found Schaitkin’s writing style a bit odd. It took me awhile to nail down exactly what wasn’t sitting quite right for me, but in the end I determined that the book was excessively detailed. I appreciate books that spend time to set the scene and create an specific atmosphere, but Schaitkin’s descriptions didn’t really do that for me. They felt repetitive and unnecessary. There are only so many words to describe a beach environment and every single one of them is in the book (many more than once). Lastly, and perhaps I am being too sensitive, but I found the commentary on how the white and wealthy act towards those different from them juxtaposed with how islanders were shown to speak just a little ironic.
Overall, I felt this book started with a great idea but ultimately missed the mark. 2.5/5 stars from me. I enjoyed the beach setting, I enjoyed getting to hear how Alison’s death affected side characters, and I enjoyed seeing how Claire dealt with her sister’s death. But this book was not a thriller and it could have been about half the length. If you’re interested in a book that details how individuals react to tragedy, pick this up. If you’re looking for a fun thriller, try something else.
CW: death of a family member, alcohol and drug use