In Birth Marks, private investigator Hannah Wolfe gets a case worthy of the great detective novels she so admires. At first glance, this one doesn't fit the bill: she's asked to find a missing ballet dancer, Carolyn Hamilton. When Carolyn's body is fished out of the Thames, stones in her pockets and an eight-month-old fetus in her belly, the police think it's a no-brainer: Single pregnant woman can't face her impending responsibilities, takes a leap off a bridge. But Hannah can't shake the suspicion that something else is going on. Hannah's investigation takes her from the London dance world to the upper echelons of Parisian society in search of the unborn child's father. But his explanation only raises more questions, and for Hannah the case grows more treacherous, fueling her own ambivalent feelings about relationships and motherhood.
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February 28, 2005
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Excerpt from Birth Marks by Sarah Dunant
Mistake number one: I should never have sublet the flat. Mistake number two was letting myself be taken in by appearances. With a job like mine you'd think I would have learnt by now. But she had seemed such a shrinking violet, an anthropology student with so many religious books that she was clearly having trouble with Darwin. Obviously somewhere over the last three months the evolutionists had struck back. The kitchen smelt as if a dinosaur had died there and the bed looked as though it had been used to test out the survival of the fittest theory. Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. It had all happened here. And I hadn't had any of them. Ah, these young people. As a woman on the wrong side of thirty I could feel disapproval coming on.
Still, some things were better than others. London looked positively rural after Hong Kong and I would never again have to stand in line while Mrs Adeline Van de Bilt signed another traveller's cheque. God knows why she had employed me in the first place. For a woman in need of security she had enough twenty-one-carat knuckle dusters to lay out most would-be attackers. And what the stones didn't incapacitate the tongue would mop up. Rich women. Maybe they've just never had to ask for anything, so no one ever taught them how to say please. Or thank you. My fault entirely. We never did sort out the small print of extra hours. 'You have to be more business-like, Hannah,' as my father would say when I tried to sell him Mediterranean after I had landed on Boardwalk with two hotels. Come to think of it, Mrs Van de Bilt probably owned the freehold.
Still, no good whingeing. There were things to be done, people to see, bills to be paid. The cleaning firm estimated it would cost a hundred and thirty quid to steam clean the carpets and degrease the kitchen, and with no forwarding address for Margaret Mead the name on the door was the name on the cheque. Work?that was what was needed. Except that's the trouble with service industries. If no one needs the service the industry doesn't work. Like now. The post yielded mild threats from credit-card firms and a billet-doux from British Gas, while the telephone messages that Miss Evolution had managed not to lose were all specific. If I wasn't there they would find someone else. Of course it wasn't the end of the world. There was always Frank. But once you leave a firm it's humiliating to have to go back begging for work. And I had got picky in my old age. I was no longer willing to wheel myself round supermarkets busting women who needed the goods more than the store needed the money. No, Frank.