Why we love it: Susie Steiner’s follow-up to the incisive, page-turning Missing, Presumed, is another stunning achievement. Persons Unknown is scintillating, funny, clever, and features the sort of feisty female detective we adore.
When we last met Manon Bradshaw, she was a dysfunctional but high-achieving Detective Inspector, looking in all the wrong places for love. Now, Manon is the adoptive mother of 12-year-old Fly, the boy she met in London on her last case, and she’s five months pregnant. After moving back to Cambridgeshire she’s foundering in cold cases while her colleagues Harriet and newly promoted Davy work on the latest juicy murder, the stabbing of a city banker in a local park.
But the worse thing is, Manon’s son Fly becomes a major suspect in the case. It can’t be Fly though surely; Manon brought him away from London to escape the police profiling that a hooded black boy endures there. Everything about this case is off and it gets even closer to Manon when the victim is identified as the father of her sister’s toddler son.
Back in London, Bernadette, the young and overweight owner of the Payless grocery store on Kilburn High Street, becomes embroiled in the seedier elements of London’s criminal underground after witnessing a high-class hooker, disguised as a goth, become the victim of a hit and run. Instead of going to hospital, Saskia hides out at Bernadette’s flat above the shop and the two form an unlikely but touching bond as they raid the store for crisps (Bernadette) and cheap wine (Saskia). Bernadette’s first person account is both sad and funny as it interweaves with the Manon/Fly narrative back in Cambridgeshire.
Manon’s frustrations reach breaking point. She’s wondering if having a baby with no father was a crazy decision to make, while manically trying to investigate the case that’s she’s prohibited from going near, with so much at stake personally. But she can’t help herself and she must solve it before her own family becomes irretrievably damaged.
Steiner has delivered another gripping page-turner featuring Manon Bradshaw, who remains comically dysfunctional but plausible and thoroughly likeable. The plot surpasses even Missing, Presumed, which we loved, and new Steiner readers can read this one standalone or grab both and read them in quick succession.
Manon’s role as a police officer and mother are delicately balanced here and Steiner portrays her situation as the mother of an adopted black child with sensitivity, without being overly sentimental. On so many levels, this is fantastic read, a real escape, and Steiner’s great skill is combining humour with dark forces, to create the very best of crime fiction.
Susie Steiner began her writing career as a news reporter first on local papers, then on the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. In 2001 she joined the Guardian, where she worked as a commissioning editor for 11 years. Her first novel, Homecoming – described as ‘truly exceptional’ by the Observer – was published in 2013. She lives in London with her husband and two children.