Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Missing, PresumedMissing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Misanthrope, staring down the barrel of childlessness. Yawning ability to find fault. Can give off WoD (Whiff of Desperation). A vast, bottomless galaxy of loneliness. Educated: to an intimidating degree. Willing to hide this. Prone to tears. Can be needy. Often found googling ‘having a baby at 40.’

Age: 39

Looking for: book-reading philanthropist with psychotherapy training who can put up shelves. Can wear glasses (relaxed about this).

Dislikes: most of the fucktards I meet on the internet.”

Detective Manon Bradshaw did not post this rather honest dating assessment to her profile. After all, the purpose of a profile is to actually convince men to contact her. No, she cut and pasted another woman’s profile that she thought sounded enticing. She shaved a few years off her age, because she knows very well how desperate being single and 39 sounds to men because it sounds desperate to her, too.

When Cambridge student Edith Hind goes missing, you would think a case of this magnitude would allow Manon to set aside her own problems and throw herself into the task of finding this woman, but the insecurities, the loneliness, bleed into all aspects of her life.

She sometimes bursts into tears for no discernible reason.

The case is odd from the beginning. There is next to nothing to go on. There are no easy to grasp handles, no ready made suspects, and those few peripheral people of interest who can be loosely tied to Edith have iron clad alibis. Her father is a prominent surgeon named Ian Hind. Let me rephrase that her father is Sir Ian Hind and is a doctor for the ROYAL family.

Oh crap.

There is always pressure with a case like this. A beautiful, affluent, bright white girl goes missing, and the press is already up everyone’s nostrils for information, but then you add in a prominent family with ties to the Crown, and suddenly everyone has to think about more than just doing their job. They have to think about covering their arses. They have to think about the future of their careers. They have to consider that one misstep might have them brushing up their CVs for a career outside of government work.

A body washes up from the river, a young man, a young black man.

Somehow it seems tied into the disappearance of Edith Hind, but there are too many pieces missing from the puzzle. Drugs would be one angle, but according to everyone who knew her, drugs were not of interest. She did causes, not drugs. She was almost militant about saving the planet and participated in city lot gardens. She grew chard. She beat people over the head with chard. Look at me, I grow Chard! She was a self-serving narcissist.

Spoiled little rich girls have time to fuss around with growing chard in abandoned city lots, but most of the rest of the world has to spend their time worrying about making a living, or if you are a 39 year old police detective, finding yourself a man to make babies with. She finds a man, unexpectedly, the natural way but loses him over a few ill chosen words.

”One minute you are loved, and then you are not.”

We spend most of our time with Manon, but Susie Steiner also devotes chapters to the other characters, the members of the police team, the parents, Edith’s best friend Helena, and her handsome boyfriend Will. We meet Tony Wright, convicted rapist, who is a cool cucumber under interrogation. He knows something; everyone knows something, and slowly, methodically the pieces start to fall into place. This is such an authentic police procedural that I felt like a fledgling recruit for the Cambridgeshire Police Department.

The characters are all fully developed. Within a few chapters, I felt like I knew Manon, that I could pop down the street and take her out for a beer so she could cry on my shoulder about the latest bloke she met online. Edith’s mother Miriam is particularly well drawn.

”He has been crying in his study. She heard him on her way up the stairs an hour ago, had stopped, one hand on the banister, curious to hear his upset expressed. Man sobs are so uncommon, they were quite interesting. His were strangulated, as if his tears were out to choke him. Hers come unbidden, like a flood, dissolving her outline, and it’s as if she has failed to stand up to them. A weakness of tears.”

Miriam feels weak, but she will prove to be strong. ”Fear is physical.”

The depth of the characters is impressive. Steiner reveals their souls and clothes them in truths.

This book transcends genre. To call it a mystery or a detective novel or a thriller is too restrictive. This is a book that will appeal to readers who want more than just a clever plot or a likeable protagonist. This book has those qualities, but also has lyrical, insightful, honest writing that insures that you will be thinking about this book and these people for a long, long time. There is a twist that will knock you on your arse, and then just as you stumble to your feet, the second twist will knock you back down again. It’s ok though because you will probably need a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting these revelations unravel what you thought was true and start a new strand of understanding.

The buzz is going to grow as more and more readers discover this book, so put a kettle on, put out a plate of cookies, and let yourself become part of the buzz.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

HHhH by Laurent Binet

HHhHHHhH by Laurent Binet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”This is what I think: inventing a character in order to understand historical facts is like fabricating evidence. Or rather, in the words of my brother-in-law, with whom I’ve discussed all this: It’s like planting false proof at a crime scene where the floor is already strewn with incriminating evidence.

 photo heydrich_zpsfyy8klq1.jpg
I don’t know how to describe him any other way except that he has a punchable face.

This is a book with a plot ensnared in the arduous process of conceiving a historical novel. Laurent Binet is writing about the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and the men who killed him in Prague. Binet shares with us the concerns he has with taking too many liberties with what is known truth and what are his reasonable speculations. Was Heydrich riding in a forest green car or was it black? Does it matter?

His girlfriend Natacha reads the chapters as he writes them. She is involved in the process to call him to task whenever he breaks one of his own rules about writing historical fiction. ”When she reaches the second sentence, she exclaims: ‘What do you mean, “the blood rises to his cheeks and he feels his brain swell inside his skull”? You’re making it up!’”

He sheepishly deletes the line, but then later in the day he puts it back in because every other line he tries to replace it with lacks... precision. Oscar Wilde has that famous quote regarding this exact predicament: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

Of course, Binet doesn’t know exactly how Heydrich may have reacted to a piece of bad news, but he does know that, given what he has read about him, more than likely anger, dark consuming anger, is the only way that someone, especially as disturbed and self-absorbed as Heydrich, could react. He was picked on as a child. He was called ‘the goat’ due to his appearance and his awkward sounding voice. The anger against humanity could have begun there. The question is, did his childish tormentors create him or did they sense on some feral level that he was going to be the architect of something evil? No one could have guessed the magnitude of the holocaust that he was going to unleash. He acquired many more nicknames once he found his home in the Nazi party: ”the Hangman, the butcher, the Blond Beast, and---this one given by Adolf Hitler himself---the Man with the Iron heart.”

The Nazi party attracted the outcasts, the angry, the perverted, and the brilliantly demented. They were men who wanted to have power over people and dreamed up creative ways to hurt them, but even among them, Hitler had to look for a man cold and calloused enough to exterminate legions.

Reinhard Heydrich was the perfect man for the job.

I want to return for a moment to Binet’s struggles with speculating about Heydrich’s physical reaction to a particular piece of bad news. Nonfiction in many ways fails to tell the truth by the very process of stripping away all the elements that are not known. We know that things are discussed, but usually those dialogues are not recorded for posterity. A good writer will read everything he can find on a historical person he plans to use in a novel. She will read everything she can find about the period. He will read letters and diaries to glean bits and pieces of information that will lend more authenticity to his novel. She will know the type of pen that was in the hand of a letter writer or the shapes of stains on the walls of a prison cell or the color of frilly underwear a mistress wore for her German lover.

When a writer has done this much research, he knows instinctively (although still subjectively) how a historical figure will react to a situation. Reasonably accurate dialogue can be written, most assuredly better written than the original discussion. The point of historical fiction is to make people come alive more than what can be accomplished by staying strictly within the facts of what is known.

I do appreciate it when a fiction writer does not alter events known to be true. Though even that I can forgive if they notate those deviations in the forward.

 photo Heydrich20Car_zps55cm1onl.jpg
Was the car dark green or was it black?

Reinhard Heydrich is a man ripe for assassination. He is careless and frequently seen riding around Prague in a convertible car without bodyguards. The people who know him despise him, and the rest of the world would, too, if they knew what he was doing. ”Heydrich is well aware that everyone considers him the most dangerous man in the Reich, and it’s a source of vanity for him, but he also knows that if all the Nazi dignitaries court him so insistently, it is above all to try to weaken Himmler, his boss. Heydrich is an instrument for these men, not yet a rival. It’s true that in the devilish duo he forms with Himmler, he is thought to be the brains. (‘HHhH,’ they say in the SS: Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich---Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.’), but he is still only the right-hand man, the subordinate, the number two.”

He is dangerous because he is ambition twined with ruthlessness.

Binet will introduce us to the assassins. They are men from Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, who are willing to risk their lives parachuting back into enemy territory to kill a man responsible for so much misery. As he gets to know them, he becomes attached to them. He wants to save them. He wants to write their life after their acts of heroism. He could create a hidden door that will allow them to escape. He could change the circumstances and give them a chance to fight their way clear...but then that would be breaking the rules.

 photo kubis_gabcik_zpsr7a4r6lw.jpg
Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, young men who proved too much for Heydrich.

I remember years ago H. W. Brands, who frequently shows up on the History Channel, was discussing the death of Lincoln. He must have been researching him for his Ulysses S. Grant biography, but one of the things that he talked about that really stuck with me was that he found himself tearing up as he wrote about the assassination of Lincoln. That event that he knew so well still inspired an emotional reaction in him that caught him by surprise. As writers, we would love to write a new ending, but of course, in the case of Lincoln, he couldn’t have died at a better time to insure his legacy.

This book was a constant struggle to write. Binet tries to adhere to his own self-imposed rules. He questions everything he has written. He wants to do it right. His perspective outside of the novel shifts. I can relate to that. I question my life all the time. Why do I do this? Why don’t I do that? Is what I write really worthwhile? Will someone see through the facade and ridicule me? Am I worthy of the subject?

”When I watch the news, when I read the paper, when I meet people, when I hang out with friends and acquaintances, when I see how each of us struggles, as best we can, through life’s absurd meanderings, I think that the world is ridiculous, moving, and cruel. The same is true of this book: the story is cruel, the protagonists are moving, and I am ridiculous. But I am in Prague.”

I am frequently ridiculous.

I want to close with one last quote from Binet about the responsibility that writers feel for those they leave in the shadows.

”Worn-out by my muddled efforts to salute these people, I tremble with guilt at the thought of all those hundreds, those thousands, whom I have allowed to die in anonymity. But I want to believe that people exist even if we don’t speak of them.”

Sometimes though, a writer can pluck a person, let’s say one who is buried in an unmarked grave with 33,771 other Jews in Kiev, and sheath him in flesh, pump blood into his veins, and free his tongue so he can tell a story left untold.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews