Persons Unknown
PublisherThe Borough Press
Date Published29 June 2017
Price£ 12.99

Persons Unknown

by Susie Steiner

A man dies with one name in his mind – Saskia. But was she his lover or his murderer?


DI Manon Bradshaw moved out of London to give her adopted son, Fly, a better life. She and her sister are sharing a house in semi-rural Hinchingbrooke, Cambridgeshire, opposite the police station. For now, Manon is taking a back seat, working cold cases from the comfort of her chair, whilst her pregnancy increasingly takes centre stage. However, she’s a detective, so it’s hardly surprising she is curious when a man dies almost outside the station.

But curiosity turns to disbelief and soon to fear when Manon realises the victim and the prime suspect are entwined with her life. As she is forced to believe the implausible, the only way she can fight back is by compromising her integrity. She has to work out who is on her side, and who will hold her back in her investigations.

Susie Steiner may be a relatively new name in the crime fiction world, but she has clearly mastered her craft already. This is the second book with DI Manon Bradshaw as the main character, the first being Missing, Presumed. Much of the book is written in the third person, present tense, from Manon’s and DS Davy Walker’s points of view. However, there are chapters devoted to others in the reasonably large cast. And Bernadette/Birdie’s point of view is written in the first person past tense, which is important to notice as it is on a different time-line from the rest of the story.

The plot is fresh, intriguing and reasonably complex, but the addictive aspect of this book is the sheer quality of the writing. Steiner’s style renders each of the characters more than well-fleshed. They are complex, flawed, sometimes funny, often sarcastic, occasionally bitter, and all deeply affected by their various situations. Their voices in dialogue may not be entirely distinct, but their thoughts, behaviour and actions are utterly in character with the people the author has created. They are light years away from stereotypes, yet people we can all relate to.

Steiner has managed to have me laughing out loud with her one-liners and bracketed introspections/descriptions. And she gave me so much pleasure reading her brief yet intense writing, that I was far too absorbed to try to sniff out the criminal. Her story and the utterly human emotions weaving through it that brought her book to life gripped me so hard that I didn’t care who had dunit, I simply wanted to stay in Manon’s world.

Although most detective series leave threads hanging at the end of each story to tease the reader towards the next book, the dangling laces at the end of Persons Unknown are so expertly cherry-picked that it is as if the author has closed Manon’s front door on the reader. It is as if the curtain has dropped on us, the voyeurs. While the criminal is identified, and their motivation revealed, nothing is truly resolved. There may be sunshine on the horizon, but it doesn’t all end happily ever after.

The issues raised in this story, from the transitory misery and hormonal vacillations that pregnancy and motherhood bring, to the enormous problems encountered with adoption, to the testing of loyalties, to the apathy of loneliness, to maternal fear, are all met with sensitivity, and a huge dose of truth.

This story starts in the middle of December, and while the bulk of the plot is over by the middle of January, there is little reference to Christmas, which is a breath of spring air, and in keeping with the plot. The author seems to have used the season for atmosphere, not as a ploy to give her readers a ‘Christmas Special’. However, this is a book that I would have put on my Christmas wish-list, if I hadn’t already read it. And it’s one that any crime-fan who has had enough of the superficial will love.

Reviewed 16 December 2017 by Kati Barr-Taylor

Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.