Sunday, 10 September 2017


Persons Unknown, by Susie Steiner

           Isn’t it great when you chance upon a book that you can’t put down – a book that has a perfect cast of characters with whom you are immediately engaged, and a plot that is sound and credible:  well, Susie Steiner has definitely ticked all the boxes for me, and will undoubtedly have gathered legions to her fan base with her second novel featuring Detective Inspector Manon Bradshaw.  I haven’t read the first, ‘Missing, Presumed’ but intend to ASAP – I have done my usual trick of reading series books out of sequence.  More fool me.
            DI Bradshaw has decided that, though her police career is immensely satisfying, her personal life is rubbish;  no chance of marriage and the children she longs for when she considers all the Wayne Kerrs (one has to say that name really fast) she meets:  nope – the only thing left is the old turkey baster.  Artificial insemination.  A baby to order.  She is terrified of her looming responsibilities and the inevitable money worries even though her job is secure, but thrilled to think she will finally have part of what she wants -  except for a loving partner.  And she is also fearful of going ahead with this momentous decision without telling her adopted 12 year old son Fly, a black child already damaged by his terrible upbringing.  In this respect Manon is a coward.  She says nothing until it is obvious to the entire world that she is pregnant (especially as she develops an appetite that would put the fat lady at the circus to shame), with predictable results:  Fly, poor vulnerable Fly, thinks he’s not wanted any more.
            To complicate life still further, a murder takes place in a park just opposite Fly’s school.  The victim is a very wealthy young investment banker, just off the London train who collapses in the arms of a woman walking her dog:  he has been stabbed.  Where was he going?  Who did he intend to visit?  When the answers to these questions are found they are shocking:  he was about to visit his two year old son Solly – Manon’s nephew, who lives with his mum Ellie, Manon’s younger sister.  Manon and Fly also live in the same house (you can rent a bigger house if you share), but Manon had no idea that Solly’s father was back on the scene.  Sisters have their secrets.
            Then the unthinkable:  CCTV and circumstantial evidence place Fly at the scene of the crime, and he is detained at a juvenile holding facility on suspicion of murder.  Their world has collapsed.
            The fragile bubble of security and love that Manon has constructed for Fly is ready to pop.  Now is not the time to be heavily pregnant!  As she is his legal relative she is not allowed to investigate any part of the crime herself, and must rely on information leaked to her by her colleagues, most of whom are horrified that a child has been ‘fitted up’ for murder.
            DI Manon Bradshaw and her made-to-order family are a worthy and refreshing addition to crime fiction.  Ms Steiner’s characters are smartly drawn, her plotting is excellent and always credible and I am now off to read ‘Missing, Presumed’.  Lucky me!  FIVE STARS

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

           Ms Steiner’s first novel featuring Manon Bradshaw is a pleasure, pure and simple.  Even though I have done my usual trick of reading a series out of sequence it doesn’t matter:  I would have been doing myself a disservice if I had decided not to make Manon’s acquaintance in her introductory investigations into crimes seemingly unconnected, but involving characters from every level of society – who swear no knowledge of each other, until it is revealed that the opposite is true.
            The story opens with Manon enduring (barely) her umpteenth Internet Date.  It is not going well, especially when Mr Mean – supposedly a poet - suggests that she pay the lion’s share of the pub bill ‘because she had wine and he didn’t’.  Yep:  dead in the water.  But time is running out!  She is thirty-nine and her chances of marital contentment and happy, laughing children are reducing by the day.  Her neediness shames and saddens her;  if only (the saddest words in the world) she could be independent and strong-minded enough to be the Ultimate Career Copper, wedded to her job which she is very good at.  Well, onwards and upwards;  it’s a new day tomorrow;  best foot forward.  Okay then.
            And the new day brings a report of a mysterious disappearance that has the Press salivating:  Cambridge graduate student (and first-class looker) Edith Hind has been reported missing by her live-in boyfriend Will Carter, himself an absurdly handsome poster boy for the Upper Classes.  There is blood on the floor of their kitchen, coats are strewn on the floor and Edith’s wallet, keys and car are still in the house.  Will is beside himself with worry, especially when he has to report Edith’s disappearance to her patrician parents, Sir Ian and lady Miriam Hind, he the physician to Royalty and she the partner in a highly successful medical practice.  They are the perfect targets for the tabloids to tear down, and the better publications to build up – all of them trying to be FIRST with the news.
            Except that there isn’t any:  Edith has disappeared completely.  Then the body of a 17 year old black boy from a slum neighbourhood in London is found in a river near to Edith’s home, and though there appears to be no relevance between the disappearance of a privileged aristocrat and the murder of a young petty criminal, Manon’s team investigations turn up nuggets of evidence that bring them closer and closer to the story’s shocking conclusion, evidence that links irrevocably those at the very top of society with others lying broken at the bottom -  including Fly, the murdered boy’s younger brother.
            Ms Steiner has constructed a plot that fits together as neatly as Lego blocks, but her characters are hardly two-dimensional:  Manon is Everywoman;  we can recognise ourselves in her tactlessness, sibling rivalry, jealousy, cowardice – and huge kindness, humanity, and consideration for the underdog,  of which there are so many.  It has been a pleasure to meet you, Manon, and I hope we will all meet again soon.  SIX STARS!


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