Last year, I read and reviewed Steiner’s Missing, Presumed, her previous detective story featuring Manon Bradshaw (four stars). In that review I expressed my fondness for novels by Tana French and Kate Atkinson, and noted “I have to say that Steiner’s protagonist, Manon Bradshaw, reminded me a bit of Elizabeth 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, “ Well, here we are again!
As Persons Unknown opens, Detective Manon Bradshaw has sort of given up on that whole finding a relationship thing, and has transferred back to Cambridgeshire where she is living with her sister Ellie, Ellie’s toddler son Solly, and Fly Dent, the twelve-year-old boy Manon has adopted. She hopes that moving away from London will provide Fly with a fresh start, where he won’t be routinely stopped and frisked by police who see only his skin color. Fly is a “…tall black youth with his hood up? He might as well wear a sign saying “Arrest me now,”” Oh, and she is five months pregnant (spoiler alert) via donor and has abandoned the search for a life partner!
What she really wants is the elusive dream of work-life balance, so she transfers to the routine, stable (and boring?) cold case group, and is determined to be a good mom to Fly and the new baby. Manon feared that the move would beneficial for Fly and she tells herself this is just what they all need.
A stabbing victim is found, and he turns out to be someone well known to Manon’s sister Ellie: he is Solly’s birth father who is a banker from London, who just happens to be worth millions. Manon finds herself trying to work on the case, although she is prohibited from doing so officially when it begins to move ever closer to her home and family.
The writing is terrific. As was the case with Missing, Presumed, I love some of the minor characters, and their wry humor. This trait is revealed in Birdie, who becomes important to the investigation: “When you’re young you think happiness might be some kind of perpetual state of orgasm, but later, once the joints go, you realize it can be simulated with some cheese and a cracker.”
But I especially love Manon. As she looks at her middle-aged self, she realizes she “…is becoming invisible, pushing her trolley up and down the aisles of Waitrose toward oblivion, picking up some grapefruit-scented all-purpose spray on her way there.”
And especially this: “What would she think of herself, what would the world think, if she were to hurl her haggard self at Mark Talbot…or pinch the bottom of a younger man next to the photocopier in the office; to deny, as men do, the aging of her flesh? Why can’t she, as men do, say” Yes, I am potbellied, wrinkly-bottomed, shortsighted, but I will make a play for that twenty-eight-year-old nevertheless? Why should she hide her desires inside the acceptable consumption of table lamps and Boden cardigans and heritage tomatoes as if this is compensation, when what she wants is callous and vivid?”
Wow! THIS is a character we know, with real emotions and life situations. Steiner does a great job with the people and the plot, although it did fall apart a tiny bit for me at the end. It was five stars right up until the last part, although when thinking how it might have otherwise ended that would have been preferable, I can’t come up with anything. But, four stars and thanks to Random House and NetGalley!