In the summer of 2016 I read a fantastic novel called “Missing, presumed“. WOW! What a series debut! The characterization was nothing short of stellar. Here is a brief quote from my review of “Missing, presumed“:
“And the police… I LOVED the police in this one! Central to the story is single, thirty-nine year old Manon Bradshaw. I loved the bones of her. So human, so flawed, yet all the more likable because of it.”
Well folks, it has been my absolute JOY this week to read the second novel in the Manon Bradshaw series. And, no surprise, it was just as wonderful – if not more so!
“Persons unknown” will, without a doubt, be included in my favorites list for 2018. And Manon Bradshaw? Well, she may very well be my favourite character, EVER!
Manon Bradshaw, a Detective Inspector with the Cambridgeshire Police, is now in her early forties. She shares a house with her adopted twelve year-old son, Fly, and her sister Ellie, who is a nurse and has a three-year-old toddler, Solly. Also, Manon is five months pregnant. Her biological clock ticked so loudly that she resorted to IVF and was successful.
Manon quite enjoys her work on cold cases. She rattles along okay with Ellie and she adores Solly. She loves her adopted son Fly – though she is riddled with guilt about uprooting him from his school and his friends in London only to replant him in Cambridgeshire. Fly is obviously unhappy and is having some difficulty settling in. He is the only black student at his new school. Fly is a wonderful boy. He is bigger in stature than his twelve years would suggest. He usually has his nose in a book, and he is great with Manon’s nephew Solly.
“This is the wonder of parenting: behind every new low is a lower low, to which you thought you’d never stoop.”
Manon, at just over five months pregnant is soooooo tired. She could fall asleep anytime, during just about any activity. It is just a few weeks before Christmas…
A man is stabbed in a nearby park. A private banker from a prestigious wealth management firm in London, his name was Jon-Oliver Ross. When Manon is shown the victim’s photo she realizes that the dead man is Ellie’s ex, and Solly’s dad. He was probably in town to visit Solly.
Davy Walker, once Manon’s sergeant, now outranks her. He is put in charge of the stabbing case. Privately he feels out of his depth. He feels like his latest promotion was undeserved. He misses Manon’s guidance, her instincts, and her knowledge. The pressure is on him to solve this case quickly as evidence and memory erode over time. Davy is single and when not at work, he feels adrift.
Evidence is brought forward that links Manon’s son, Fly Dent, to the stabbing. It is Davy that arrests Fly. Manon refuses to believe that her beloved son could have anything to do with the murder, yet part of her knows that her co-workers would not have arrested him without evidence, something strong…
“Her son contains mysteries, corners into which she cannot shine a light.
He is a closed, separate person.”
Davy himself feels horrible about this turn of events. He, who has spent countless hours volunteering at youth centers. His deep affection and respect for Manon are directly at odds with what he feels he must do for his career.
Due to her personal involvement with the suspect, Manon is denied access to the case. She hires a good lawyer to represent her son. Mark Talbot works tirelessly on Fly’s case. He works all hours, at Manon’s kitchen table. Manon is not sure if it is just pregnancy hormones, but she feels an overwhelmed attraction to Mark. She knows that she is not at her most attractive, and cannot believe that Mark would fancy her at all. The tension of Fly’s case coupled with her pregnancy make Manon exhausted and she drops off during one of their work sessions.
“You certainly know how to snore”. Yeah right. I wasn’t even asleep.” “Must’ve been the boiler,” he says. “You didn’t fart either.” He is jimmying off her shoes, which seem to have become wedged onto her swollen feet. Why does pregnancy make everything swell up?
Meanwhile, the reader is introduced to another excellent character. Birdie (Bernadette) Fielding, is a fifty-something storekeeper. Her shop, “Payless Food & Wine” is located on Kilburn High Road, in London Overweight and unfit, Birdie lives alone, above the shop – which has a wide array of snack-food laden on its shelves. Birdie lives alone.
“I love my lounge: it’s the perfect place to sit in front of the television and pop things in your gob.”
Birdie’s isolated and singular life is changed when a young woman is knocked down by a car in front of her shop. She is not too badly injured, and Birdie takes her into her shop/flat to recover. The two become unlikely friends. The young woman who calls herself ‘Angel’ acts furtively and obviously holds many secrets. The communal living is not what Birdie is used to, and many times it annoys her. That being said, she feels bereft when she is not there. Little does she know, but her new lodger is connected to the man who was stabbed to death in Cambridgeshire. Eventually she confides in Birdie and says, “They’re going to kill me as well.“.
The police case involves corrupt businessmen, prostitution, and police ethics. But, as good as it was, it is by far overshadowed by the wonderful characters in this novel. Manon is a brilliant policewoman trying to attain the always illusive home/work balance. She loves her children like a fierce ‘Mamma Bear’. Fly is a wonderful boy who is thrown under the bus. He is an outcast, so therefore a scapegoat. He hasn’t been a part of Manon’s world for very long, so he is ridden with personal uncertainties beyond that of just being an adolescent. Birdie is a colourful and compellingly likable character. I only hope that the author will find a way to bring her back in another novel.
Mostly though, this novel is about normal people just trying to get by in a world that often feels adversarial. It is about parenting, and the love of family in all its permutations. A skillfully written novel that contains empathy, pathos, and humour. In short, I loved this book. I’m already yearning for another glimpse into Manon’s world.
I wish everyone could read this fantastic series. Highly, highly recommended!
Somehow, I also received a digital copy from Random House via Edelweiss. I am grateful to them also.
Susie Steiner is a former Guardian journalist. She was a commissioning editor for that paper for eleven years and prior to that worked for The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and the Evening Standard. “Persons unknown” is her third novel. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.