Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be part of the Blog Tour for The Missing Sister
|Penguin Random House|
21 March 2019
My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book and the invitation to be part of this blog tour
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. . .
Belle survives riots, intruders, and bomb attacks - but nothing will stop her in her mission to uncover the truth. Can she trust her growing feelings for Oliver? Is her sister really dead? And could there be a chance Belle might find her?
✴ I'm really delighted to be able to share this tantalising extract with you ✴
Rangoon, Burma, 1936
Belle straightened her shoulders, flicked back her long red-gold hair and stared, her heart leaping with excitement as the ship began its steady approach to Rangoon harbour. Rangoon. Think of it. The city where dreams were made, still a mysterious outline in the distance but coming into focus as the ship cut through the water. The sky, a shockingly bright blue, seemed huger than a sky ever had business to be, and the sea, almost navy in its depths, reflected a molten surface so shiny she could almost see her face in it. Even the air shimmered as if the sun had formed minute swirling crystals from the moisture rising out of the sea. Small boats dotting the water dipped and rose and she laughed as screeching seabirds swooped and squabbled. Belle didn’t mind the noise, in fact it added to the feeling that this was something so achingly different. She had long craved the freedom to travel and now she was really doing it.
With buzzing in her ears, she inhaled deeply, as if to suck in every particle of this glorious moment, and for a few minutes she closed her eyes. When she opened them again she gasped in awe. It wasn’t the bustling harbour with its tall cranes, its freighters laden with teak, its lumbering oil tankers, its steamers and the small fishing boats gathering in the shadow of the larger vessels that had gripped her. Nor was it the impressive white colonial buildings coming into sight. For, rising behind all that, a huge golden edifice appeared to be floating over the city. Yes, floating, as if suspended, as if a section of some inconceivable paradise had descended to earth. Spellbound by the gold glittering against the cobalt sky, Belle couldn’t look away. Could there be anything more captivating? Without a shadow of a doubt, she knew she was going to fall in love with Burma.
The heat, however, was oppressive: not a dry heat but a kind of damp heat that clung to her clothes. Certainly different, but she’d get used to it, and the air that smelt of salt and burning and caught at the back of her throat. She heard her name being called and twisted sideways to see Gloria, the woman she’d met on the deck early in the voyage, now leaning against the rails, wearing a wide-brimmed pink sun hat. Belle began to turn away, but not before Gloria called out again. The woman raised a white gloved hand and came across.
‘So,’ Gloria’s cut-glass voice rang out, breaking Belle’s reverie. ‘What do you make of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Impressive, no?’
‘Covered in real gold,’ Gloria said. ‘Funny lot, the Burmese. The entire place is peppered with shrines and golden pagodas. You can’t walk without falling over a monk.’
‘I think they must be splendid to create something as wonderful as this.’
‘As I said, the pagodas are everywhere. Now, my driver is waiting at the dock. I’ll give you a lift to our wonderful Strand Hotel. It overlooks the river.’
Belle glanced at the skin around the other woman’s deeply set dark eyes and, not for the first time, tried to guess her age. There were a number of lines, but she had what was generally termed handsome looks. Striking rather than beautiful, with a strong Roman nose, chiselled cheekbones and sleek dark hair elegantly coiled at the nape of a long neck . . . but as for her age, it was anyone’s guess. Probably well over fifty.
Gloria had spoken with the air of someone who owned the city. A woman with a reputation to preserve and a face to match it. Belle wondered what she might look like without the thick mask of expertly applied make‑up, carefully drawn brows and film-star lips. Wouldn’t it all melt in the heat?
‘I occasionally stay at the Strand after a late night, in fact I will be tonight, though naturally I have my own home in Golden Valley,’ Gloria was saying.
‘Golden Valley?’ Belle couldn’t keep her curiosity from showing.
‘Yes, do you know of it?’
Belle shook her head and, after a moment’s hesitation, decided not to say anything. It wasn’t as if she knew the place, was it? She simply wasn’t ready to talk to someone she barely knew. ‘No. Not at all,’ she said. ‘I simply liked the name.’
Gloria gave her a quizzical look and Belle, even though she had determined not to, caught herself thinking back. A year had passed since her father’s death, and it hadn’t gone well. The only work she’d found was in a friend’s bookshop, but each week she’d pored over the latest copy of The Stage the moment it arrived. And then, joy of joy, she’d spotted the advertisement for performers wanted in prestigious hotels in Singapore, Colombo and Rangoon. Her audition had been in London, where she’d stayed for a gruelling two days and an anxious wait until she heard.
Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. Her idyllic childhood always held a special place in her imagination, and when she began writing novels in her 60s, she was able to return there - first in her fiction and then on annual research trips for each new novel. Dinah Jefferies is the author of four novels, The Separation, The Tea Planter's Wife - a Number One Sunday Times bestseller, The Silk Merchant's Daughter and Before the Rains. She lives in Gloucestershire.