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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.
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Series private investigator Hanna Wolfe, based in London, narrates this forcefully written story of an ambitious cancer researcher who unwittingly destroys his own family. The plot begins with the tragic death of the man's troubled teenaged daughter while she was in Hannah's care. As Hannah attempts to identify a murderer, she questions underground animal rights advocates, fractious pig farmers, and manufacturers of chemical "performance boosters" for pigs. While Hannah makes no individual literary references, she does point to the mechanics of writing detective novels-an intriguing, if not ironic note. Recommended.

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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