I don’t think I’ve ever come across an author who paints scenes as vividly as Dinah Jefferies. I very much enjoyed The Tea Planter’s Wife which I read a couple of years ago so I was thrilled to receive a review copy of this book.
The book is set mostly in 1930s Burma. Belle Hatton arrives there to begin a glamorous job as a nightclub singer. But she is also intrigued by a family secret: a 25 year-old newspaper cutting discovered in her parents’ belongings after their deaths tells of their rapid departure from Rangoon in 1911 after the disappearance of their baby daughter, Elvira. Belle is determined to find out what happened to the sister she never knew she had. Details emerge showing that her mother was thought responsible for the baby’s death although this was never proved but as Belle delves further into the mystery she finds herself in danger from someone who clearly wants the truth to remain hidden – but who should she trust?
If ever a novel had the power to transport me to another place, it’s this one! I could see the glittering gold pagodas, bustling harbour, streets swarming with rickshaws, bicycles, cars and horse-drawn gharries. I could also feel the oppressive heat, and growing menace.
Life for the British people when Belle’s mother arrived in the early 1900s was glamorous and exciting:
Cocktails, dinner parties and those lavish, night-long garden parties. The sheer joy of a Parisian silk dress skimming my skin…Then, having drunk too much champagne, watching pink and orange lanterns swaying in the breeze as the sky turned indigo just before dawn. But oh, the garden, with its perfumed flowers and the huge canopies of trees where monkeys swung in the branches.
So what went wrong?
Some sections are told from the mother’s point of view, describing her post-natal experience, the collapse of their marriage and her altered life back in England and the impossible condition to which she was forced to agree.
I found both viewpoints equally absorbing and they are skilfully woven together to reach a satisfying conclusion. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries set in exotic locations.
The Missing Sister is published by Penguin, ISBN 9780241985434.
My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for a review copy in return for an unbiased review.