missing, presumed

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

I'm never going to wholly approve of publishers/publicists claiming that an author is the new Tana French or the new Kate Atkinson, both of which are called upon to compare with Steiner's new novel. 

I've complained about it before, and I'll complain about it again, I'm sure, in part because the far majority of the time it's simply a bait-and-switch. They want you to pick up the novel based on your love-for-and-desperation-for a novel by your favourite author (Atkinson and French are both within my top handful). And then you are almost 100% guaranteed to be disappointed.

However.

This time - and quite possibly only this time - I'm gonna go ahead and let it stand. I know! I can't believe it either!

I am going to be sure to say this is still not French, still not Atkinson. But of all the blurbs for which I've subsequently read the book that make these claims, Missing, Presumed is honestly the closest I've read. 

I felt there were weaknesses, yes. One of the main characters, a detective named Davy has a girlfriend so patently nasty, so entirely un-nuanced, ("'Look at you, Davy,' Chloe had said, as he showed her the forensics lab and the phone-tracing department. 'You've really drunk the Kool-Aid, haven't you?'"), while Davy is endearing, noble in a not-annoying way, that you just roll your eyes the moment she shows up, unbelieving that Davy would ever be with such a person. 

I could have done with less points of view - it could've been smoother without jumping around so much. And I sort of felt like the ending fell apart a bit- it wasn't the most satisfying to me, though I'd have difficultly articulating precisely why.

But allow me to stand up and applaud Steiner for not succumbing to the recent almost seemingly desperate trend of mystery/thriller writers making their female protagonists entirely dislikable, self-destructive without any remotely reasonable reason for being so, and almost always alcoholic. (I tried starting this last month and and was terribly put off - I read another recently as well that I mostly liked but the protagonist's alcoholism was so extreme it was an absolutely impossibility that a real woman with such problems could never function in real life, let alone do what the protagonist did). I understand why authors feel compelled to do this after the success of books such as The Girl on the Train and anything by Gillian Flynn. But Flynn wrote two novels with protagonists at least as dark as the one in Gone Girl before she hit it big time with that book and I suspect she didn't receive recognition for those two earlier novels in large part because people weren't ready for female protagonists who were so dark. And when they were, it was because it was so different and startling.

But now everyone keeps trying to piggy-back off these originals and no one does it nearly so well as Flynn and I, personally, am becoming increasingly nauseated by these attempts. Simply creating a characters with these attributes alone does not automatically create a character with depth or interest. 

Back to Missing, though. Not only does Steiner not make her protagonist, Manon, in this vein, she makes her a character I can identify with, a woman I'd like to know. Yes, she still has weaknesses, including personal ones outside of the job, and there were a couple times that her particular concerns bordered on hysterical in a way that didn't quite align with her primary character traits, but she was still interesting and enjoyable. And as much as I love my Tana French, and I'm sure that there's some humor in her novels (surely there's some, right? I always walk away from her books so incredibly thrilled and satisfied but I wouldn't cite humor as a primary feeling), Missing has some rather clever lines, some great twists of phrase. Wry humor is, I think, how it would be classified.

"But it wore off, his handsomeness and its presence in the room, which initially made Manon wind one of her curls about a finger, and Harriet hold her stomach in."

I can see Steiner setting Manon up for more investigations and I welcome the stories to come. No, she's not French, but she's certainly strong and deft and I look forward to watching her characters and novels develop. 

 

*Penguin Random House provided an advanced copy for review. Missing, Presumed was released in the States on June 28, 2016.