From a plot point of view, ‘Missing, Presumed’ follows an investigation into the sudden disappearance of a Cambridge post-grad student. The circumstances of her disappearance mean she’s classed as a high-risk missing person. The fact that her parents are friends of the Home Secretary make her a high profile missing person. As the police work to find her or, at least, find out what happened to her, her personal life comes under scrutiny and her friends and her parents receive unwanted media attention. This isn’t one of those ticking-clock police dramas where everything has to be solved in seventy-two hours. It’s a longer, more arduous process and there are some surprises along the way.
The plot is interesting but it’s mainly there to provide a framework for looking at the lives of the people touched by the investigation. That the story is told from multiple points of view by people with very different backgrounds, motivations and circumstances enriched the novel for me.
Centre-stage is Manon Bradshaw. ‘Missing, Presumed’ is the first of three novels about her. At the start of this novel, Manon is a Detective Sargeant with the Cambridgeshire Police. She’s is thirty-nine, single, deeply lonely and struggling with the depressing business of Internet dating. She is not a happy camper. Manon explains that, in Hebrew, her name means bitter and she is often seen as living up to it.
Manon felt real to me. She’s not the clichéd cop. She’s not married to the job. She’s not an alcoholic (although she does occasionally get drunk). She doesn’t seek conflict with her bosses or feel the need to be a hero. She’s a Cambridge graduate, with a degree in English, who reads people well and does her job to the best of her ability.
I liked that, over the course of the novel, we see her change. She makes mistakes. She hurts people she shouldn’t, falls for people she shouldn’t and ends up making an emotional commitment that she had no plan ever to take on. I found her interesting and I’d like to know what happens to her next.
We see part of the case from the point of view of Davey, a DC reporting to Manon, who is a much more warm-hearted and hopeful person. He’s interesting in his own right and he provides another view of Manon.
The other main character is Miriam, the mother of the missing post-grad student. I thought she was very well drawn. She’s a medical doctor who has let herself fall into the shadow of her very prominent physician husband but who has a strong mind and will of her own. Her perspectives on what was happening were very different from those of the police.
As well as creating characters who feel real, or perhaps as part of it, Susie Steiner lets those characters interact in surprising ways that go beyond the roles that you might expect of colleagues or suspects or family of the missing. I thought this worked very well.
There are two more books about Manon Bradshaw and I am keen to read them. I’ll be sticking with the audiobook version, which is narrated by Juanita McMahon, who did a splendid job or creating recognisable voices for all of the characters. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.