Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed was so close to being a four star read for me. So close. The novel follows the disappearance of PhD student Edith Hind, who leaves an open door, a house in disarray and a trail of blood in her wake. The case emerges through three main perspectives – those of Edith’s mother Marion, DS Manon Bradshaw, and DC Davy Walker – though it’s Manon who carries the bulk of the page time.

Manon starts out as a wonderfully relatable character; nearing forty with a non-existent love life, a despair of online dating and some Bridget Jones-esque text banter with her best pal Bryony. She exudes a realism that from the start gave the novel a wonderfully fresh feeling, and had me certain that I’d be happy to read more by Steiner in future.

Steiner’s character work really is brilliant, capturing little details that I’ve rarely encountered – for instance, a detective whose nervous tic is readjusting her bra straps at every available opportunity. She also has a real flair for showing, not telling – honestly, what more could a reader need to know about characters encountered “washing up the Le Creuset after lunch’s monkfish stew” or who admit “I don’t wipe my internet history. I’m only ever on the John Lewis website looking at table lamps.”?

The trouble is, somewhere after the halfway mark, the case itself begins to submerge beneath the character development. We follow Manon on multiple dates, through a new relationship and out the other side, and really, I was in this for the crime. Upon embarking I didn’t even realise it was structured as a police procedural, so when the mystery aspect was set aside for chapters at a time, I’d much rather have returned to it than spend more time reading about the characters’ love lives.

The conclusion wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped, and while I understand that Missing, Presumed is intended to be the first of a Manon Bradshaw series, I’m just not sure I’m interested enough to return for more. Were Steiner to pen a standalone crime/thriller novel that eased off on the romance, I’d be there like a shot.

(Assuming, of course, I could move past my deep distress as a Vodafone employee – “[Policing was] so much sexier than the jobs he could have had: regional manager for Vodafone […] Which would you rather? Flogging some twenty-four month contract with 3,000 free minutes or wondering whether the Dutch woman got on a train to Brighton to kill herself there, or whether she was murdered?”)

[Many thanks to NetGalley and The Borough Press for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.]

[Read from 1-4 September 2016]

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