Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: 'Persons Unknown' by Susie Steiner

Although Susie Steiner employs the overused device of giving key characters their own individual chapters, she does so with a style and finesse that lends distinction to "Persons Unknown." This police procedural deals with the further adventures of forty-two year old Detective Inspector Manon Bradshaw, now in her middle trimester of pregnancy, who is "in hot pursuit of the work-life balance." Previously, she adopted Fly Dent, a twelve-year old African-American boy (Manon takes "pride in his reading, in his gentleness, his soft manners, his decency"), who resents her decision to leave the pricey and dangerous streets of London for a four-bedroom home in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. Manon and Fly live with Manon's sister, Ellie, and Solly, Ellie's adorable two-year-old son.

The plot involves the stabbing death of thirty-seven year old Jon-Oliver Ross, a financial wheeler-dealer and ladies man, the subsequent arrest of a convenient but unlikely suspect, and the exploitation of vulnerable girls to entice rich businessmen. The characters are intriguing, and we get to know some of them intimately. Manon is hilariously self-deprecating about her ungainliness ("she has a rolling gait these days, as well as a double chin, as if someone has attached a bicycle pump to her backside and inflated her"), is perennially exhausted, cries at the drop of a hat, and has an enormous appetite. She adores Fly, but fears that he will go astray if she does not keep a close eye on him. Because of her transfer from the Met, she has been demoted to a boring desk job. However, she has good reason to stick her nose into the aforementioned homicide investigation, led by former colleagues DCI Harriet Harper, and DS Davy Walker.

There is an abundance of humor in Manon's clumsiness, bluntness, and inability to take no for an answer. In addition, Steiner effectively and warmly conveys how far a devoted parent will go to protect a child she loves. Adding to the novel's appeal are its brisk pace, aided by the author's skillful use of short sentences and fragments; superior descriptive writing; animated and clever dialogue; and a meticulous examination of how carefully analyzed forensic evidence can be a game-changer. The conclusion springs an unpleasant surprise on us, leaving enough loose ends to whet our appetite for the next installment in this engrossing and addictive series.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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