Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Book Review - Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner


 Edith Hind has gone missing, leaving just her coat and a smear of blood, and DS Manon Bradshaw has a window of 72 hours in which to find her before experience suggests it will become a murder investigation.
Police procedurals are perennially popular and in a saturated market an author really needs to write with confidence and flair or risk being lost in the crowd. Susie Steiner has done just that with Missing, Presumed, a book as much about the characters as the mystery. DS Manon Bradshaw is the heroine of the book and is neither too much the hard-bitten cynic nor the wide-eyed ingénue. She is often brittle and is lonely, spending sleepless nights listening to her police radio-  after a disappointing one night stand she rushes to become involved in Edith's case after hearing the report of her disappearance - but despite her clearly unfulfilled home life  she is empathetic and perceptive, and in a story that gradually builds in tension as the hours pass is the warm and humorous centre to the book. The other characters in the book are also entirely believable, the missing Edith we learn is passionate but irritatingly pretentious about causes she believes in, her parents, (her father is an eminent surgeon and friends with the Home Secretary) have to face not only their daughter's disappearance but also revelations about her private life, her mother's anguish searingly relatable regardless of your social class. Manon's colleagues too are exactly the sort of people you can imagine sharing an office with, the almost ever optimistic Davy who loves police jargon, cheerfully puts up with Manon's misanthropic nature and lives with a woman who is clearly undeserving of his devotion, Nigel, exhausted father of newborn twins, and  Detective Inspector Harriet Harper, Manon's superior - refreshingly their relationship is one based on mutual respect rather than the author falling back on the petty jealousies that so often plague books featuring strong women,
'This is what Manon likes most about Harriet –no, not likes, understands: she isn’t on an even keel. She feels the work in every fibre and it hurts her.'
Missing, Presumed feels entirely relevant.  From the hours of grinding investigation, to the pressure from higher up to solve a high profile case despite the confines of a budget, all under the watchful and hungry Press. Edith Hind might be a fictional character but we know how these stories play out, the media feeding frenzy, suspicion cast on friends and the family and the shift from waiting to hear reports from the police to demanding to know why they haven't yet solved the case.
This isn't the last we'll see of Manon Bradshaw as a sequel, Persons Unknown is due in 2017 and I know I won't be the only one to welcome her return. As I said previously, there are plenty of police procedurals to choose from - Susie Steiner has written one that encapsulates the gritty, messy world we live in and has done it without sacrificing the humour and warmth that binds people together despite the troubles life throws at us.
I received my copy of Missing, Presumed through NetGalley in return for my honest review.

Missing, Presumed is published in the UK by The Borough Press and is out now.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Book Review - Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick


Michael Swanwick is a Hugo and Nebula award winning author and has numerous fans of his novels and short stories. However, it's only in the last few years that I've discovered how much I enjoy speculative fiction so this is my introduction to his writing.
 Short story collections remind me a bit of albums, some stories will become favourites whereas others may feel more like fillers, often skipped over. Now and again though an album is packed with quality and the same is true of Not So Much, Said the Cat. Inevitably there were some stories I was more drawn to but there are no weak tales here and I suspect that if you ask a group of readers each person will have a different list of favourites.
This is a generous collection of short stories and so rather than try to describe them all, here is a brief outline of those that particularly stood out for me;
The Dala Horse is a post apocalyptic Scandinavian fairytale, beautifully atmospheric and whimsical but as with the best folklore it is also dark and disturbing. Goblin Lake also has a fairytale feel to it and invites the reader to imagine what they would choose in the same situation, it reminded me somehow of Hans Christian Andersen's stories. Lovers of alien stories will be well satisfied too, From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled is an extraordinarily well crafted story, it simultaneously satisfied me as a beautifully told complete short story and left me wanting to read more about this strange world. Passage of Earth is truly chilling, I really enjoyed this one but it's also one of the most disturbing stories I've read in a long time. If I was really pushed to picked a favourite I'd be torn between Of Finest Scarlet was Her Gown which gives the collection its title and is a witty, richly imagined trip to hell, and Tawny Petticoats - if Dickens did SF, a bawdy, funny and yet thought provoking yarn.
This really is a smörgåsbord of a short story collection taking the reader from the Mesozoic era, to Russia, Hell, far off planets, an alternative Europe and dystopian worlds controlled by non humans. It's the perfect taster to Michael Swanwick's writing, it enthralled me and kept me awake at night thinking and left me wanting to read more.
Thanks to the publishers for my copy, received through NetGalley in return for my honest review.

Not So Much, Said the Cat is published by Tachyon Publications and is out now.