These are the first 2 in this new(ish) crime series from ex-Guardian columnist, Susie Steiner. As is my wont I managed to read the second one first (I’d taken it on holidays so couldn’t get my hands on the first one to read them in sequence), but once I figured out who was who – it took a few chapters – I tore through Persons unknown and couldn’t wait to start Missing presumed the minute I got home.
Sorry, that introduction was as clear as mud – to clarify: The central character is DI Manon Bradshaw, whom we find at the beginning of the second book working cold cases for Cambridgeshire Police, heavily pregnant and with an adopted son recently acquired, living with her sister and her sister’s baby, and “in hot pursuit of the work-life balance: desk job, regular hours, house full of children”. I was sufficiently intrigued at this point to keep reading, as it’s rare (and refreshing) to come across a detective in fiction not wedded to the “job”. Actually this is where I should have stopped and gone back to fill in her back story, thus saving myself some head-scratching over how she’d amassed all this baggage in an apparently short space of time.
Cut, then, to Manon at the beginning of Missing presumed, on an internet date with a man sporting “thumb prints on his glasses: petroleum purple eggs, the kind of oval spiral they dream of finding at a crime scene”. Still a DS at this stage, Manon can only sleep at night by listening to her police radio, which she thinks of as “the sound of vigilance…human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad”, so it’s fair to say that work/life balance is still some way off. Single and unashamedly open about her loneliness, she is good at her job but the rest of her life is a mess. However that’s all about to change in ways she can’t possibly anticipate…
What makes these books stand out in a very crowded genre is the wonderful ordinariness of the characters, from the mixed bag of misfits that becomes her makeshift family to her colleagues at Cambridgeshire Police. There’s Davy, Manon’s sidekick in book 1 - naively optimistic, he nervously takes the lead on a murder case in book 2 and is faced with some moral dilemmas before ultimately finding his way. Then there’s Fly - her black adopted son, a 12 year-old as tall as a man, (Manon urges him to wear his hoodie down at all times to avoid harassment), who is at the centre of a story about endemic racism in the police force. Finally there are the victims, criminals and lowlifes that any police officer encounters on a daily basis, all well-drawn and believable.
But the real reason to read this is Manon herself, kick-ass detective, albeit flawed and deeply human. This series feels almost like a new genre – Jane Tennison meets Bridget Jones!