This came highly recommended, although I think it was last year’s thriller / police procedural of choice (there’s now a follow-up on the market as well). For obvious reasons, I won’t go too much into the plot, but it starts with a young woman disappearing, and that is the thread that binds the novel together; those under suspicion include members of her family, friends, loved ones, the criminal fraternity, local odd-balls and so on.
First things first, Steiner has a real talent for character and dialogue: I really like the main police character (Manon Bradshaw) and there are plenty of very funny moments of dialogue amongst her and the team, and in some of the situations she finds herself in (primarily as a result of the latest dating scenario). Other characters could be paper-thin caricatures in other hands, but felt human and rounded, even if sketched quickly or newly introduced. This aptitude for likeable characters and snappy, realistic dialogue is at the heart of what I really enjoyed in the book as a whole.
What I enjoyed less was the plot and narrative momentum. Steiner has publicly stated (it’s in the ‘Book Club’ notes at the back) that she wanted to find a middle ground between a more character-driven literary novel and a more plot-driven police procedural. Unfortunately, for me, it rather started and ended with the latter (plot-driven) with the more character-driven elements in the centre of the book. This made it a bit uneven: the pace dropped noticeably, and there was no progress made (of even tangential nature) on the case for what felt like 100 pages or more. And though I like the characters, they weren’t so engaging that I was more interested in their love lives, family scenarios and broader economic challenges than finding out what actually happened. In a sense, I think Steiner was aiming at a wholly integrated character-and-plot combo, bringing something fresh to the police procedural / crime thriller. But instead, she starts off in fairly standard fashion, setting up expectations (at least in this reader) that are then not met….and nor is the character-driven part as interesting or engaging as it needs to be.
A personal opinion, obviously, and it has been extremely successful…so what do I know?! I like the main character enough to give the next one a go at some point, but I hope it holds together a bit more as a whole, instead of being less than the sum of its parts.
BUY IT NOW: Missing, Presumed (A Manon Bradshaw Thriller)