Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.
Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.
Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press?
And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?
’72 hours to find her…’
‘Shy reader seeks quality crime mystery that features an incremental look into odd human behaviours and a love for procedural realism.’ This is what my Lonely Hearts ad would say when hoping to be paired with this book.
Susie Steiner is one of those authors – the kind who can build an entire world in the opening pages, realistic, relatable, and three-dimensional. She doesn’t shy away from minuscule, often overlooked characteristics, and doesn’t feel the pressure to make every ‘chapter’ a significant revelation. She relishes in the throwaway detail – the ones you read about a character or moment that build a wider picture, until you are inside the author’s mind, mapping out the world she has crafted. In fact, it would be very reasonable to say that her book isn’t solely a crime procedural, but a study of life in the police ranks and the type of characters you may come across there too.
Although her book features a variety of perspectives, alternating every few pages, from members of the police force, to the victim’s mother and friend, her main protagonist is thirty-nine year old, singleton Manon Bradshaw, and she isn’t your typical, everyday woman. She is a Detective Sergeant, plagued by years of horrendous Internet dating and finds comfort in listening to her police radio crackle on as she struggles to fall asleep. She has had multiple opportunities to climb the ranks but has always wished to remain a DS for the perks – staying ‘on the ground, interviewing suspects, running her team of DCs and civilian investigators’. Her apartment is film set-like, all of the furniture gifted by the previous owners who had swiftly moved abroad. Her bedroom is piled with books, ruining the minimalistic look it once showcased, and from her window seat, she watches the orange street lamps light up the road below her, all while feeling the cold air flow in from a gap in the sash frame. She wants to find Mr Right in the opening chapters, entirely fed up of all the Mr Right Nows, but after another horrific date, it is clear she is far from finding him.
In all truth, when we meet Manon, she is everything a lot of people fear to become. In her own words, she is in a ‘vast, bottomless galaxy of loneliness’, ‘prone to tears’, and can ‘give off WoD’ (a Whiff of Desperation). Although an intimidatingly smart Detective, she is riddled with flaws and troubles – however, this makes her highly intriguing. It is not hard to fall for this character (actually, I dare you not to), because even though she is all of these things above, she is determined and fierce, and female protagonists like this are what we need.
Our victim is the opposite of Manon – youthful, wealthy, and on some level very dislikable. Her name is Edith Hind, a twenty-four-year-old Cambridge post-graduate, living with her modelesque boyfriend, Will Carter, in Huntingdon. She is surrounded by a close network of family and friends, her father an established physician for the Royal Family and friend of the Home Secretary. With a keen interest in Victorian Literature, adultery, and EM Forster, Edith comes across as more cowardly and pretentious than anything else. The main reason you pity her, or want to find her at all, is because of Miriam, Edith’s mother, who is another of the alternative perspectives.
Steiner’s inclusion of Miriam’s outlook adds a fascinating layer to Missing, Presumed. It establishes the urgency of it all – the mystery, the suspense. It reminds you that for the victim’s family, time stops. Life stops. And that a missing loved one can either bring a family closer together or tear them apart.
What first drew me to this book was the acknowledgements. I don’t know why, but they always do when it comes to this genre. I like to know the author has sought out advice for accuracy’s sake, because there is little worse than a well-written book plied with inaccuracies that have you going ‘Wait, what?’. To my delight, Steiner grounded her book with advice from Cambridgeshire’s Major Crime Unit and CID. Reports mentioned within her work – staff and prisoner relations in Whitemoor – are real, and even her ‘chapters’, featuring Irish and Scottish dialect, give thanks to advice attained.
Overall, Missing, Presumed depicts the trickiest of cases: high-risk Mispers who vanish from their homes without a trace. With the door left open, an abandoned coat, and Edith’s blood on the floor, this is all DS Bradshaw and her team have to solve the case.
Steiner’s work illustrates the mass of procedures taken to find a person, as well as the repercussions of doing such procedures too early or too late. She demonstrates how the press can both help or hinder a case, and that, sometimes, either choice is a lose-lose situation.