Borough Press €16.99
Susie Steiner’s third Manon Bradshaw novel is as funny as it is shocking, as thought-provoking as it is topical. Prompted by a real-life news story about a Cambridgeshire modern-day slavery racket, it’s a social commentary as well as a police procedural, in addition to being at moments a rather dispiriting evaluation of modern-day marriage.
While walking her toddler son in the local park, Manon discovers the body of a young man hanging from a tree. There’s a note pinned to the body saying “The dead cannot speak.” The young man is identified as Lukas Balsys, an immigrant from Lithuania. He had been working on a chicken farm, housed in a filthy, overcrowded rental and his passport and money remained the property of a Lithuanian gang boss, along with the passports and money belonging to all of Lukas’ colleagues.
As Manon heads up this grim investigation she finds there’s also trouble at home. Her partner is diagnosed with cancer and, as she examines the course of their relationship, she’s left feeling decidedly guilty about how much she has taken him for granted. (Although some of the most amusing passages in the book are about the institution that is modern marriage!)
While Manon digs deeper into the murder investigation, she comes up against a seething and particularly vociferous lobby of UKIP thugs, who don’t view the murder of a “foreigner” as anything to complain about. Welcome to the Britain of Boris Johnson.
In an intricate and finely-honed story, Steiner has much to say about a plethora of issues, not least how difficult it is to make progress in one’s career as a working mother. With much more meat on its bones than many other novels in the same genre, it’s an intriguing and often disturbing read, lightened by Manon’s dry and distinctive wit. I enjoyed it immensely.