Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed (DS Manon Bradshaw #1) was recommended by Twitter friends whose word is auto-click/buy. An “old-fashioned” mass market came in the mail and made for spine-cracking pleasure. After the romance novel disaster (see my review of Kristen Ashley’s Dream Maker), I wanted away from caricatured alpha-heroes and self-sacrificing heroines to something cleanly realistic, devoid of HEA, a police procedural where the pursuit of the truth came in neat, defined lines and the female detective heroine made her way with smarts and chutzpah. What I got was something more complex, compelling, and messy. I loved it, so you know, if you don’t want to read on … get yourself this book. At the centre of Steiner’s mystery is Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire Police. The novel opens with Manon on her nth Internet date, bored, restless, and barely tolerating the company of her desultory, cheapskate date … (when they divvy up the bill, it’s outtathere for me, but Manon stays, even sleeps with Mr. Forgettable.) After he leaves, she turns to the soothing sounds of her police radio to settle into sleep and Steiner’s lines give you a good sense of her fine writing and Manon’s character: ” … it is the sound of vigilance, this rapid response to hurt and misdeed. It is human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad.” Idealized? Yes. Nevertheless, Manon is the very thing: curmudgeonly, sarcastic, but doggedly kind, relentless in her gruff decency and commitment to solving crime, bringing justice, righting wrong. She’s chaotic and mistaken and not warm, cuddly, or fuzzy, but she is acerbic, least likeable when strident, and I loved her.
After Manon’s opening scene, the “crime” at the mystery’s core was introduced: rich, privileged, beautiful Cambridge student Edith Hind, is missing, blood spatters in the house she shares with her boyfriend, coat, hat, keys, left behind. Manon is on the case. But the novel takes an interesting turn: POV doesn’t stay with Manon, but takes a panoramic lens, sometimes we hear from Edith’s parents, Sir Ian (doctor to the Royal Family) and Miriam Hind, sometimes from other members of Manon’s police team. My favourite was DC Davy Walker, Manon’s partner, so moral and good, not naïve, or overly earnest, spending any spare time at a centre for troubled teens. Steiner has a great talent for detail in drawing her characters and I loved Davy’s stick-out ears, which would redden when he was put on the spot. He’s sure-and-steady to Manon’s mercurial and I loved reading them together. How he brings Manon her latte? Lovely.
Other than perfect pacing, Steiner brings a terrific combination of police procedural and personal life richness to her “copper” characters. These are not bitter loners dedicated to the job, well, Manon is, but she’s neither bitter, nor a loner. She, Davy, and others want to have full lives, with a partner and children. This interweaving of the mundane details of making a personal life and dedicated professional life are the stuff of Steiner’s uniqueness and the pleasure of reading her mystery novel. Apropos of the pacing is Steiner’s adept unfolding of the truth behind Edith Hind’s disappearance: characters open up, the narrative swells and elicits intense curiosity on the reader’s part (indeed, I couldn’t put this down, lost sleep over it), and the truth is unveiled slowly, surely, steadily, pieces falling into place. In the end, the crime’s solution is meh, stereotypical, deflating. I can’t say I loved it. But I want to follow DI Bradshaw (yes, there’s a promotion by the end) and her new life, a sort of HEA, but not in a romance-y-way, to her next case. And I hope Davy is there too. Other than that blip of resolution disappointment, this is an incredibly enjoyable mystery. Miss Austen would concur with “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma. Missing, Presumed is published by HarperCollins. I look forward to Manon #2, Persons Unknown.