We adore crime fiction, but of course not all crime fiction is created equal. And Missing, Presumed we firmly put in the category of brilliant crime – clever, gritty, sometimes funny, and with characters that get right under your skin.
We love the latest in the tradition of hardened British female detectives in the smart portrayal of the wonderful DS Manon Bradshaw who is on the case of missing person Edith Hind. Manon Bradshaw is damaged, single, a loner who is often lonely, and cynical about the dire dating scene. Her online dating profile describes herself as 35 (she’s 39) and as genuine and easy-going. “I love life and laughter, a bottle of wine with friends, cinema and walks in the countryside…” it says. The more truthful version she admits is, “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… Often found Googling ‘having a baby at 40′.’
Manon likes to show the world a hard front, but she’s soft at heart and not untouched by the harsh realities of her job, which is getting harsher by the minute. The ‘high-risk misper’ assigned to Manon is Cambridge postgrad student Edith Hind; posh and privileged and gone without a trace. There are many suspects in her disappearance or is it a murder? There’s the drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend, the uni lecturer, the nervous best friend, the previous offender. But there’s nothing obvious leading to her disappearance and not much to suggest if she’s alive or dead.
But the pressure is on Bradshaw and Cambridge police to find Edith Hind as fast as possible. Edith comes from a prominent London family – her father is surgeon to the royal family and a good friend of the home secretary – and they’re demanding answers. This gives Missing, Presumed a pacey feel – the first 72 hours are critical in a case like this and the media are closing in. When a body is found in the nearby river, there’s a collective sigh of horror. Is it Edith and if not, then who and is it connected to her disappearance?
Missing, Presumed is told from the perspective of a number of characters – Manon Bradshaw, Manon’s sidekick Davy, Edith Hind’s mother Miriam, and Edith’s tragic best friend, Helena. This gives the reader keener psychological insight into the characters than superficial depictions found in some crime fiction. Not only of Manon but the whole cast, especially Edith’s mother Miriam, who is blaming herself for the bewildering disappearance of her daughter.
Susie Steiner’s writing, as well as brimming with suspense, is peppered with perceptive insights into modern life, such as the police banter as they search through the victim’s Facebook posts: nothing but wholesome food, green lifestyle boasts, lots of extremely flattering photos of herself, complete with banal comments from friends. “It’s a wonder she wasn’t murdered sooner,” says one of Manon’s colleagues.
Twists and turns run rampant through this book until its extremely satisfying conclusion. It’s clever, well-written crime fiction at its best.
Susie Steiner is best known in the UK as a journalist on the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and more recently as a feature writer on the Guardian. The Observer described her first novel, Homecoming, as as ‘truly exceptional’. She lives in London with her husband and two children.