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Review: Missing, Presumed

Susie Steiner’s new detective mystery, Missing, Presumed was published in summer 2016, but it makes a better winter read. This story takes place primarily in the cold months of December and January, so it coincides perfectly with the season.

missingpresumedAbout the book: Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw is 39, still single, at odds with her remaining family, and a committed police officer of Cambridgeshire. When a high-risk missing person becomes the biggest case of the year, Manon doesn’t want it to become her whole life, but she has little else to occupy her time. All the leads seem to point to nowhere, however. She’s also trying internet dating in her spare time, but that’s not going well either. Davy is dating the wrong girl, Harriet is married to her job, Bryony has a man but worries it’ll go wrong, and Edith… Edith is missing, and none of the people who love her have any idea what’s happened to her. Did her boyfriend have something to do with her disappearance? Did her girlfriend? Her prestigious family? The friendly ex-convict? The young man who turns up mysteriously dead around the same time? Manon doesn’t even know whether the team should be looking for a live girl or a dead one. Her private life, however, offers little respite from the search.

“Nature doesn’t know quite what to do with a childless woman of thirty-nine, except throw her that fertility curveball–aches and pains combined with extra time, like some terrifying end to a high-stakes football match.”

Best aspect: I love these characters. They’re all flawed, they all do great things, and then have a bad day and do things that make the reader cringe in pitying embarrassment. They feel like real people, with real problems, and seeing the minutiae of their days makes reading this book–especially at the same time of year as the story is taking place–feel like a real-life news piece to which the reader has an inside track. The narration is quirky and unexpected, giving such a layer of detail to every action and idea that the simplest statements turn into elaborate explanations that help the reader connect to each and every character.

“She smooths out the pillow and duvet where he’s been and pushes her feet down under the covers, reaching out an arm from the bed to switch on the radio, with its sticker reminding her it remains ‘Property of Cambridgeshire Police.’ A cumbersome bit of kit, and no one at detective sergeant rank is supposed to have one at home, but it is not a plaything. It is the method by which she overcomes insomnia. Some rely on the shipping forecast; Manon prefers low murmurings about road and traffic accidents or drunken altercations outside Level 2 Nightclub on All Saints Passage, all of which she can safely ignore because they are far too lowly for the Major Incident Team… The clicks, switches, whirring, receivers picked up and put down, colleagues conferred with, buttons pressed to receive. To Manon, it is the sound of vigilance, this rapid response to hurt and misdeed. It is human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad. She sleeps.”

I don’t want to say there was any “worst aspect” to this book, exactly, but I noticed a couple of elements that could have gone smoother.

One, is the use of myriad abbreviations. Although these feel like bits of authentic English police jargon, I wasn’t familiar enough with them for each abbreviation to stick after only one brief mention early in the story. I tend to start reading new books at night, starting with about twenty pages to get a feel for the style before spending more time with the story the next day. So I read the beginning of Missing Presumed one night before I fell asleep, and by the time I picked it up the next day, I’d forgotten what most of those capitalized letters stood for and I wasn’t given any reminders. Luckily, the context was helpful enough that even without remembering exactly what everything stood for, I could understand what was going on without any difficulty. I could’ve flipped back to earlier pages to refresh my memory, so the confusion over this felt like my fault more than the book’s, but still worth a mention. Pay attention to those abbreviations, because this book definitely makes it the reader’s job to keep them all straight.

Secondly, this book is told in the present tense, from a close third-person perspective–most of the time. There are some instances where a character will think back on past events and the tense will switch. This threw me off every now and then, but it is done well; the rather uncommon style just takes a little getting used to. On a related topic, there is one character (I’ll refrain from describing whom to prevent spoilers) that is given a first-person narration. There are only a couple of sections in the entire book in which this choice makes an appearance, but I wished it hadn’t been done that way. The third-person narration that follows every other character goes deep enough into the lives and thoughts of everyone that there isn’t anything gained by the use of first-person narration when it appears. Furthermore, by the time this character takes the lead in the story, he/she doesn’t feel like the major character. The reader becomes more concerned with knowing how the investigation will turn out for all the characters who are given more page time up to that point, and so the choice to lend this particular character a first-person narrative feels random and unnecessary.

None of these factors actually detracted from the story for me, though; they were merely small details I noticed that I would have done differently if I’d played a role in the editing process. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist Steiner’s writing style and word choices, and can’t wait to see more of her work.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I had thought this book was going to be a thriller, but it turned out to be a more straightforward mystery. I enjoyed the story regardless, but it took me a little longer to read than I would’ve planned for a thriller. That said, it was an immersive book. I loved the real-life feel, the depth of each character, and the voice of the narration. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more books published in what appears to be an ongoing detective series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for the characters I’ve become acquainted with in Missing, Presumed.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling) is a great choice for readers who enjoy England-based detective mysteries. Here, again, the characters feel real and likeable despite their flaws, and the mysteries of this trilogy are completely engaging. For more info, read my complete review of the first book here.
  2. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is another stellar read for mystery lovers. Set on an island, ten unique characters realize a killer walks among them and must try to figure out which of them is the murderer before they’re all dead. For more info, read my complete review of this book here.

Coming up next: I’ve just started reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I want to finish this book before the end of the year to count it towards my Goodreads challenge (which I’ll also be posting about within the next few days), so I should have a review ready soon. I’ve read a few books lately that I’ve decided not to review, but I will also be sharing my monthly wrap-up soon with details about every book I’ve read in December, and I’m planning lots more reviewable books in the near future, so fresh posts are imminent!


The Literary Elephant