I do love a really good, meaty crime novel, but there’s so much crime fiction that just doesn’t work for me. I think I want it all to have the perverse darkness of Ruth Rendell or Tana French or the delightful rompiness of Laurie King or the social conscience of Attica Locke. And so little measures up to those standards. Alas.
I had high hopes for this novel by Susie Steiner, having seen it praised again and again by various Twitter friends. But, alas.
The mystery involves the disappearance of Edith Hind, a Cambridge grade student. As is usual in a book of this type, she had some secrets that the police must untangle, and that process wreaks havoc on numerous lives, most especially that of her fiance, Will; her best friend, Helena; and her parents, Ian and Miriam. The Hind family is well-known enough that the media takes an interest in the story, which furthers the trouble for everyone. It’s a pretty standard mystery.
Investigating the case is the Cambridgeshire police, and, although we get to know several of the officers involved in the case, the novel focuses on DS Manon Bradshaw. And here’s where I got annoyed with the book. Manon is in her late 30s and single and really unhappy about it. Which is fine. But she read as really immature, almost as if she were a single person as imagined by someone married who assumes that 20-something singleness, with its high emotions, is the same as late-30s singleness, when most women I know have settled into their situations, even if they still date and want to get married. When Manon does meet someone, she has a total personality change, going from standoffish and acerbic to friendly and cheerful. Yes, the first flush of a new relationship can bring some lightness, but this change seemed way too extreme. I found it unpleasant and kind of insulting.
The book is as much about Manon as it is about the mystery, which would be fine (even good!) if I’d not been so frustrated at the way Manon was written. Her professional side was handled really well. I liked that she messed up in understandable ways. In fact, her dating life is used to good effect here because her desire for a personal life causes her to miss an important call, with terrible consequences. I was less impressed that she does the common crime fiction thing of confronting someone dangerous without backup, but it is a common crime fiction thing. Overall, she is good at the job, but in an ordinary way. It felt like a realistic workplace book. If the personal side had been handled as well as the professional side, I’d have liked this more. But, alas.