Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Cover of the novel Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner. The back of a woman's head, shoulder-length hair, with trees on either side; all very sepia-toned except for her jacket which is blue.
After a run of some pretty disappointing galleys, I am thrilled to report that this book broke the curse because it is GREAT!

Title: Persons Unknown
Author: Susie Steiner
ISBN: 0812998340
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Page count: 321
Genre: Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodread’s description:

The sequel to Susie Steiner’s bestselling MISSING, PRESUMED

Manon has settled back into life in Cambridgeshire with her adopted son Fly. She’s perfectly happy working on cold cases until a man is stabbed to death just yards from the police station, and both the victim and the prime suspect turn out to be much closer to home than she would like. How well does Manon know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?
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I read Steiner’s first book Missing, Presumed as a galley, too (it was one of my first galley reads!) and really enjoyed it. I don’t read a TON of mysteries despite liking the genre, so I was thrilled to stumble upon this author. This is a series, so if you haven’t read Missing, Presumed yet, I recommend starting there. There aren’t really any spoilers about the mystery aspect of it in Persons Unknown, but it does introduce you to recurring characters so you have a firmer footing in the story.

Manon Bradshaw is the main character in both books, and I just love her – she is such a delightful mess. Manon is so far from perfect, and she knows it but can’t help herself because she is above all HUMAN, and it’s just really refreshing to read. Steiner has a fantastic sense of humor that is threaded throughout the whole book (I highlighted SO many passages!), and it’s most clearly realized in the characters of Manon and Birdie.

The mystery in Steiner’s first book was definitely compelling, but it had a teeny bit of something unsatisfying about it; it was a little remote in feeling. The mystery in Persons Unknown could NOT be more immediate – it affects several of the main characters – including Manon – personally, and this was a satisfying change. I do want to be clear that this is not a thriller – the pacing is steady, not urgent. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a thriller from time to time, but there does seem to be a glut of them lately, so it was really nice to read something that is a mystery first.

One cool aspect is that since this is a book with multiple perspectives, the reader has the benefit of the collected experience of all, and this creates some delicious dramatic tension, since we know more than the characters do individually. Another interesting facet for reading nerds is that this is written mostly in 3rd person, but there is one character, Birdie, who is written in 1st person. I didn’t know what to make of the combination at first, but I really came to love reading Birdie’s 1st person voice (her obsession with a certain British politician is so great!). I now wonder if Steiner did it to differentiate Birdie from Manon more clearly – they are VERY different characters, but they share a similar snarky, self-deprecating sense of humor (which I love so much).

This was a mystery where I guessed a few things correctly (or rather, knew that certain aspects were WRONG) but I was definitely surprised by some things in the end. Not, like, fell-off-my-chair floored, but definitely a bit “Ohhhhhhhh.” 

One more random thing: the way that Steiner writes about motherhood is so authentic that you absolutely KNOW she has been there. A+ on that.

This is a great series, and you should definitely read it. If I had to choose, I’d say I definitely liked Persons Unknown more than Missing, Presumed, but both are solid reads!

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Cover of the book Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. A group of kids and a dog stand in silhouette with a tentacled monster in a lake in front of them. Pinks, greens, oranges.

Title: Meddling Kids
Author: Edgar Cantero
ISBN: 0385541996
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: July 11, 2017
Page count: 336
Genre: Mystery/Horror
Source: NetGalley
Rating: Unrated

Goodreads Description:
1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.


With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

Review
As a lifelong fan of Scooby Doo (who had VERY STRONG OPINIONS of such things as the creators changing the theme song when I was 4), I thought this sounded like a fun romp of a book. It might have been, but it contains some really troubling language that was both unnecessary and extrememly disappointing.

For example: Pretty early on, as we’re getting introduced to all the main players in the story, we’re taken to an asylum. The opening scene there is one of the main trouble spots. The author is setting the scene, talking about other patients there before we even meet Nate. On one page he describes a character named Kimrean – so the character has a name. But in two different instances, the character is referred to as “the hermaphrodite.” At first, the term took me aback, because we have much better language to talk about trans/intersex life these days. I wondered if I was being “overly sensitive” because it IS supposed to be 1990. But then when I went back to reread it, it’s not just the term hermaphrodite that is troubling. It’s the fact that he refers to a named character as both “the schizophrenic hermaphrodite” and again as “the hermaphrodite.” Why?! It’s such incredibly othering language, and it’s just lazy. That is what makes it offensive. Despite it being set in 1990, it was written long after that -and I am CERTAIN that the author could have handled this scene with more care. Instead, he went for the cheap laugh (of the “look at all the freaky people!” variety), and it really failed.

So, if I could excise that scene from the book and my memory, how would I feel about the book? It was okay. I didn’t love it, but it was definitely a unique story. There is a sense of snarky, overly clever humor (the kind where you can imagine the author being so entertained by his own wit) threaded through that might work really well for you, or it might make you cringe – it was about 30/70 worked/didn’t work for me. Words like “tragichuckled” don’t exist FOR A REASON.

The pacing was odd. And there are no chapters, just Parts (I think 1-5). I kind of missed the endpoint of chapters for pacing’s sake. It was the kind of book where if I was reading it, I found it compelling enough, but I was NOT rushing to get back to it between readings. I should say that I have never read Lovecraft, so I can’t speak to that aspect of the book.

If it was cleaned up a LOT, and sensitivity readers/writers were brought in, it could make a fun summer movie – that’s what I kept thinking as I read it.

But as it stands, it needs a rewrite. I could not in good conscience recommend this book to anyone as it is now.

Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner

Cover image of An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner

Title: An Oath of Dogs
Author: Wendy N. Wagner
ISBN: 0857666673
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Page count: 432
Genre: Science Fiction/Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5 stars!

I really enjoyed this science fiction mystery! I am a sucker for stories set on alien planets, especially when the flora and fauna are part of the story. Add in a questionably ethical mega-corporation, a religious sect that helped colonize the planet, mysterious and scary feral dogs and MURDER – and you’ve got yourself a good story. I liked that the perspective changed – seeing both out of biologist Peter Bajowski’s eyes and that of newly-emigrated communications manager Kate Standish (who has a therapy dog companion, Hattie) made the story more interesting. But maybe the most interesting were the diary excerpts from the Believer woman who was part of the first human convoy to the moon of Huginn. These slowly reveal the creepy story that is in the background of all the action taking place.

If you like Sheri S. Tepper, the later books in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card or even the movie Avatar, you should definitely give this book a try.