Belle Hatton has embarked upon an exciting new life far from home: a glamorous job as a nightclub singer in 1930s Burma, with a host of sophisticated new friends and admirers. But Belle is haunted by a mystery from the past – a 25 year old newspaper clipping found in her parents’ belongings after their death, saying that the Hattons were leaving Rangoon after the disappearance of their baby daughter, Elvira.
Belle is desperate to find out what happened to the sister she never knew she had – but when she starts asking questions, she is confronted with unsettling rumours, malicious gossip, and outright threats. Oliver, an attractive, easy-going American journalist, promises to help her, but an anonymous note tells her not to trust those closest to her.
The Missing Sister is Dinah Jefferies’ sixth novel and is set in the beautiful country of Burma a few years before the Second World War. The story focuses on a young woman named Belle Hatton who is hired as a singer in a luxurious hotel in Rangoon, however her real reason for being there is to find out what happened to the older sister she never knew she had.
Belle’s parents were stationed in Rangoon when baby Elvira was abducted from their garden. Believing the child to be dead, the police arrested her mother, Diana, on suspicion of murder but there was no evidence to suggest foul play. The loss of her daughter coupled with the guilt of believing herself responsible affected Diana’s mental state to the extent the family returned to England where Belle was eventually born. When Diana was forced out of the family home, Belle was told she had died.
Belle is an interesting character who is initially naive enough to accept people at face value, however as she starts looking into her sister’s disappearance she begins to receive threats which make her increasingly wary. Belle doesn’t know who she can trust but she still makes some questionable decisions which lead her into danger. Despite the twenty-five year period since Elvira’s disappearance, there are still a number of people who remember the incident and it is clear someone is intent of stopping Belle from discovering the truth.
The mystery of what happened to Elvira is evenly paced throughout the novel and there are a few red herrings along the way in an attempt to throw the reader off the scent but the truth is easy to work out. Once the truth is revealed, the whole story falls rather flat as the culprits are brought to justice a little too easily and everything is wrapped up with a neat little bow.
Belle’s narrative is interwoven with chapters dealing with Diana’s fate, albeit in an earlier timeframe, however it becomes increasingly predictable where her story is heading which completely undermines the twist at the end.
What I love the most about Dinah Jefferies’ novels is the exotic setting and Burma really comes alive in this book as Belle is keen to explore the country beyond the colonial aspects. It would have been nice if Belle had encountered a few more native people and learned more about their culture but she interacts mainly with Europeans and Americans. The different locations are wonderfully descriptive though and the sights, sounds and smells are all vibrant.