Friday, March 20, 2020

Review of Birth Marks by Sarah Dunant (1991, Penguin)

Hannah Wolfe is a private investigator struggling to get by in London. Falling back on her old boss she picks up a missing persons case. Carolyn Hamilton was a promising ballet dancer who has disappeared. Her childhood teacher is sufficiently concerned to hire Hannah to track her down. However, not long after she starts her hunt, Carolyn’s body is found in the Thames, heavily pregnant. The police think it is suicide, but Hannah is not convinced. She suspects foul-play and continues to try and uncover the previous nine months. Her digging leads to employment agency, then onto Paris and a family who do not want to provide straight answers.

Birth Marks was the first in a set of three featuring London PI Hannah Wolfe. Hannah sees herself as a Philip Marlowe kind of character; a hardboiled, wise-cracking PI that eventually solves the case. In reality she’s a little more frail, not so smart, and reliant on others, though she’s persistent and resilient. Her task is to find a missing ballet dancer who then turns up dead. She uncovers clues by means fair and foul and makes faltering headway in a case the police have ruled suicide. The plot is fairly linear and despite a bit of a twist towards the end it’s pretty predictable; there is really only one suspect once they’ve come into view. A quite pedestrian but enjoyable enough PI tale.

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