A decade before her dazzling breakthrough novel, "The Birth of Venus, " author Sarah Dunant won Britain's prestigious Silver Dagger award for "Fatlands, " a Hannah Wolfe mystery. In "Fatlands, " private investigator Hannah Wolfe, who's independent though not invincible, idealistic but definitely not naive, has taken on one of the less glamorous jobs in the security world -- chaperoning teenage rebel Mattie Shepherd around London. But Mattie's father is paying Hannah lots of money -- more than the job is worth, it seems. Or perhaps not. The girl's father is on the Animal Liberation Front's hit list. But why? When violence explodes, tearing the family apart, this is what Hannah must discover. Her obsession with the truth nearly kills her, wrecking her private life and dragging her into a vortex of lies and betrayal.
Although plenty of mystery authors are currently rounding up the usual suspects from the ranks of the animal rights movement, Dunant (Birth Marks) claims the territory for her own in this fine work, thanks principally to her sharply ironic, appealingly introspective PI, Hannah Wolfe. Hannah, who never met a bacon sandwich she didn't like, hires on to escort 14-year-old Mattie Shepherd around London on a birthday shopping spree when the teenager's father, Tom Shepherd, says he can't do the honors. It turns out that scientist Tom, whose firm uses animals in its research, has received death threats, most likely from the radical Animal Liberation Front. Then a murder draws Hannah, a quintessential street-smart city gal, to the less than gentle countryside. Dunant's crisp characters compensate for the slightly disappointing ending. Particularly appealing is Hannah, whose observations about such PI indignities as empty larders, loneliness, getting beaten up and needing to discern the thin line between good and evil are frequently funny, occasionally poignant and always insightful. (Nov.)
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August 05, 2008
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