Missing, Presumed which introduces DS Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire Major Incident Team can loosely be classed as a police procedural, with the spotlight very firmly centred on how the individuals involved cope with the fallout from a high risk missing persons investigation. Hugely involving, Susie Steiner provides multiple viewpoints to build up a brilliantly complete picture of all of those involved and affected, from the detectives, to the family and friends of the individual. Focused on the internal discourse than runs through their heads as they struggle to manage their lives with Edith's fate hanging in the balance Missing, Presumed is refreshingly realistic and provides a personal insight into a sensitive investigation.
The case in question is the seemingly suspicious disappearance of Edith Hind, a twenty-four-year old English post-graduate student from the home she shares with her boyfriend just outside Cambridge in Huntingdon. All the signs seem to indicate the worst with the front door left ajar, blood spatter on the carpet and evidence of a struggle. The pressure on the investigators is compounded by virtue of her well-connected family, father Sir Ian Hind and his wife, Lady Miriam, are notably good friends with the presiding Home Secretary. The initial hours bring no answers on Edith's whereabouts and as the days turn into weeks and the new year is welcomed in, it seems that the events may never be known. The investigation into Edith's fate progresses at a snail's pace, resembling the events of Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö; the initial golden hours are followed by a cooling of efforts and a sense of flagging morale as the search for a body becomes seemingly inevitable. The characters involved, both police officers and family and friends are brought to life exceptionally well and Susie Steiner portrays realistically flawed individuals in a frank and honest, warts and all view.
The detective readers get to see at closest quarters in Sergeant Manon Bradshaw, a bright Cambridge graduate with her own troubled family history and demons. As a modern woman, pushing forty and single her fellow officers seem very aware of her biological clock ticking. Manon is a conflicting mass of emotions, needy and facing a future on her own, but also someone who can find failure with absolutely everyone that she encounters! Honest, often to the point of blunt, Manon hates her loneliness and all it signifies but is fiercely critical and dismissive of those that cross her path on the continuing cycle of internet dating. It is almost as if Manon has been disappointed by her life and perhaps expected more, never living up to her high standards of perfectionism that she envisaged. She is wonderfully honest about her own demons and she is the first to deliver an acerbic reality check on her emotions. Hot-headed and too quick to take offence, Manon is a walking, talking bunch of contradictions; a modern career woman hoping for more from her life, and rightly so!
Admittedly, it is the sassy, opinionated Manon who readers learn the most about, but the chance to hear from the affable DC Davy Walker was also appreciated and together they provide a well rounded view of the police investigation. Susie Steiner also provides an insightful social commentary, willing to broach the areas which a rigid police procedural might feel beyond their remit and acknowledges the scaling back of efforts and the no holds barred views on the people that cross their path. Fellow officer, Colin, is left to vocalise much of the public opinion of Edith as a do-gooder, with noble principles and apt to preach but sheltered from the realities of so much of life by virtue of her privilege and education.
As befitting a broadsheet journalist, Steiner dazzles readers with her perceptiveness of just how the media bandwagon can hold sway in a high-profile case, starting with their enthusiasm for a "festive stiff" and the "complex love life" of the daughter from a privileged family to keep the circulation numbers up. However salacious gossip in the red tops is soon swiftly followed by criticisms at the lack of progress and memories of the mistakes of Soham, when the unrelenting refusal to raise the urgency level remained at the front of all the detectives minds. The overriding feeling is that as far as the media is concerned, it is more than ever a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't". In this way the constant trade-off between the increasing cost of the Edith enquiry and a need to justify every pound spent, with the pressure filtering down to the detectives and uniforms on the street, is cleverly played out.
Often crime fiction authors can be tempted to paint a whiter than white picture of the lives of victims, but here Susie Steiner manages to turn an ambivalent point of view as regards Edith Hind almost full circle, resulting in a feeling of real antipathy on my part as the novel proceeded. It fell to mother, Miriam and brother, Rollo, to acknowledge Edith's willingness to hog the limelight and her overly dramatic tendency to magnify every event in her life. The attention to detail and the depth that Steiner imbibes all of her cast with ensure that Missing, Presumed hauntingly presents so many angles of the story in realistic detail. Aside from Manon, Miriam as mother to missing Edith is brought to life exceptionally well, juxtaposed between an overbearing husband, Ian and showing gratitude to the well-wishers and police, all the while confronted with the fact that she actually knew very little about her child. Miriam's forthright honesty was truly moving and in that respect Steiner captures perfectly the forgiving love of a mother, evoking memories of The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, which I certainly recommend to readers who appreciated this aspect, particularly in regard to being forced to reappraise the view of ones own child.
Missing, Presumed is a darkly humorous journey along the rocky road of a sensitive police investigation, which manages to be starkly honest and insightful yet maintains a plausible plot along the way. Susie Steiner tackles head on the upshot of Edith's disappearance, managing to oversee a genuinely moving and impassioned conclusion, always resisting playing the overly twee card. Perceptive and a true pleasure to read, I look forward to the return of Manon Bradshaw which Susie Steiner has confirmed.