I’m looking for a new mystery series to follow, and my searches have led me to two new writers.
One is William L. Myers who is a former lawyer and has started a new legal thriller series set in Philadelphia. I read his novel A Criminal Defense. The reading was not unenjoyable but I will not be picking up anything else by this author. The plotting is good but the writing is hideously bad, even for a genre that is not known for its great literary quality. The characters are tedious and have absolutely no depth, in spite of the author’s desperate attempts to make them look complex. The series is set in Philadelphia, which is an unfortunate choice for a series. I love Philadelphia, but it’s not the kind of a city that anybody wants to read about across 30 novels. Famous series are set in New Orleans, San Francisco, Baltimore, and LA because these are the kinds of places that give enough local color to make a series interesting.
Right after the Myers fiasco, I discovered a truly great series that I’m very happy to tell you about. Susie Steiner is a former Guardian journalist but she is not a bad writer. This week, I read both novels in her young series, and I liked them so much that I even postponed reading my new Elizabeth George for their sake. The first novel in the series is Missing, Presumed. The best thing about this novel is not the plot but the writing and the character development. Manon Bradshaw, the protagonist of this police procedural, is a much more interesting character than the ones that normally protagonize novels in this genre. For some reason, female sleuths are usually portrayed as collections of the worst stereotypes about men. They seem cognitively challenged in their utter incapacity to do anything outside of a burping, farting, emotionally undeveloped and physically gross stereotype.
Steiner is not afraid of showing a female character who is terrified of loneliness and who desperately tries to find a guy and construct a family, which at the age of 39 is not very easy to do. In the second novel in the series, Persons Unknown, we see the results of Manon’s efforts in this direction, and her painful efforts to mature. If you contrast the two novels, you can also observe the ways in which different social classes define the concept of a family. Steiner is one of those female authors who are terrified of their own literary talent, and write mysteries to mask it. As a result, the question of who killed whom and why fades in importance next to the fascinating characters and their experiences. If you are into that kind of thing, if you liked Barbara Vine when she was still alive, I highly recommend Steiner. Steiner is obviously from a very different generation, but the talent and the interest in people are there.