I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mystery series, often described as “literary mysteries.” So when a new (to me) author’s book is described as a literary mystery, I’m in! I was eager to read Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed, knowing nothing about her work or ability to deliver the kind of story I was craving: something with enough of a mystery to hold my interest, so I could settle in and lose myself in something written with skill and creativity.
For starters, I have to say that Steiner’s protagonist, Manon Bradshaw, reminded me a bit of George’s Barbara Havers of the Lynley series. Like Barbara, she is a no-longer young woman who has an interesting and successful career – but she is dissatisfied with her situation, and she REALLY wants to be in a relationship. She is 39, and trying to get her life in order, “Manon would determinedly fill the fridge, resolve to paint the cupboards…while the washing machine churned, resolve too to eat beetroot more and take up Zumba, only to have it all disappear in the suck and tow of the next tide.” I loved Manon’s keen observations: for example, on journalist Keeley Davis, she notes the woman “will no doubt be off to the Mail any day now, with her tight suit and that retro Nissan she drives, the automotive equivalent of a Prada handbag.” Manon’s luck at Internet dating hasn’t been great. She meets Alan Prenderghast, with whom she finds conversation comes easily…perhaps too much so, as when Manon blurts out to Alan “I sometimes think I don’t actually like anyone that much. That all I ever want is to be on my own. And then I can’t cope with it – with myself, just myself all the time, and it’s like I become the worst company of all – and there’s this awful realization that I need people, and it’s almost humiliating.” That’s some serious self-awareness!
The point is, Steiner is GREAT at developing her characters. Manon finds herself on a case that is bound to be high profile: Edith, the beautiful young daughter of a physician whose clients include nobility and royalty, has gone missing. The girl’s parents, Ian and Miriam, and her brother Rollo are desperate for a resolution to the mysterious disappearance.
Like Manon, Miriam is a strong woman whose unhappiness is revealed in a variety of ways, nearly always in relation to others. “Any confidence Miriam ever had in herself as a mother has been eroded, and what is that confidence built on anyway, she thinks now – the luck of one’s children? The DNA lottery? If they’re bright and successful, you congratulate yourself. If they fall by the wayside, the world judges you.”
The relationship with Ian is revealed gradually. Thinking of her husband, Miriam muses that he “has that curious inability that the upper classes have to wear casual clothes convincingly. She wonders if he emerged from his mother’s vagina in a sports jacket. “
She notes that the two of them “both prone to … thinking their way out of their predicaments, as if sheer force of intellect could control the random world.” Reflecting on their marriage, Miriam says, “It is a slog, marriage. How could she tell her daughter that without making it sound worse than it is? Built on hard work and tolerance, not some idea of perfection as Edith might have it.” Edith has a boyfriend, Will Carter, and “Miriam has had the thought in the past that Will Carters handsomeness is an emblem of Edith’s belief in perfection – or at least her belief in appearance. She hasn’t realized yet that looks count for nothing, that how things appear is nothing next to how they feel.”
As Manon investigates Edith’s disappearance, the story is revealed from multiple points of view, particularly those of Manon and Miriam. While it is somewhat a police procedural, the real strength of this book is in its writing style and character development. While it’s not up there with Elizabeth George’s better efforts, it is certainly well worth reading, especially for those who appreciate well developed female characters and an interesting plot without excessive violence and gore. I will definitely read whatever Susie Steiner comes up with next. Gratitude to NetGalley for an advance copy of Missing, Presumed in exchange for my honest review. Four stars!!!