3 of 5
Persons Unknown
320 pages; Random House
Manon is a suburban, white police detective whose tough attitude has served her well. That is, until her adopted black son, Fly, becomes a suspect in a murder. "This is why she took Fly out of London," Steiner writes, "because he was getting stopped every five minutes by coppers who couldn't see past the color of his skin." Although the novel is a genre procedural (and the second Manon installment), it's also a whip-smart examination of English society, from the high-powered, wealthy associates of the murder victim to the cheating middle-class spouses in the neighborhood to the prostitutes and shop workers who are yanked into the drama. (Steiner captures all their voices with wit and humor, especially the bodega owner who delivers his brand of wisdom on reality TV, local criminals, snack food options and pretty much everything else.) Amid the bloodshed and detective work, Manon struggles with being a single mother (she's also pregnant as the story takes place) and rages—understandably—when her maternal instincts are dismissed by her colleagues. In the process, we're left with a potent message about how prejudices about race and class obscure clear-cut facts.
— Mark Athitakis