The Missing Sister

Written by Dinah Jefferies
Review by Fiona Alison

The bestselling author of The Tea Planter’s Wife has written another historical mystery featuring complex family relationships, love, and betrayal. Annabelle (Belle) Hatton leaves England for Rangoon, Burma, in 1936 to pursue what she hopes is a dazzling career as a nightclub singer. She has with her several old newspaper articles about a baby girl who disappeared in 1911, when her now deceased parents lived in Rangoon. As she peruses the clippings, she finds herself falling into a decades-old mystery concerning what appears to be her own sister, who she never knew existed. Several people offer their help to chase down leads, but as Belle finds herself in increasing danger, she has no idea who to trust, and fails to understand why her search has stirred up such enmity. She becomes ever more desperate to uncover her sister’s fate.

Jefferies’ novel is thoroughly compelling and believable, a natural flow of tension weaving in and out of the chapters. We become immersed in the intense sultry heat, the beauty of Burma’s natural landscapes, the extraordinary flora of Rangoon, the gold glinting off the pagodas, and the dissatisfaction of the Burmese people for their British overseers. There is a formula apparent here, found in Jefferies’ other novels, and it works beautifully, urging the story forward, unfolding the mysteries bit by bit, but only making the reveal apparent at the denouement. Belle’s story is offset by her mother’s tragic backstory, told in 1921, and this aids in understanding actions and motivations in 1911 and in 1936 without having to rely completely on Belle’s discoveries. Peppered with the feel, sounds and smells of 1930s Burma and an interesting mix of characters, this is, as expected, a beautifully written novel.