Susie Steiner, author of the major new crime novel, Missing, Presumed, provides some valuable insight into the creation of her captivating central character Manon Bradshaw.
My aim in writing Missing, Presumed was to write the book I most wanted to read – a book with all the focus on character and relationships of a literary novel, but propelled forward with the page-turning motor of a thriller. (Two of my pet hates: literary novels where nothing at all happens, or things happen very sloowwwwwwwwly; and conversely hard-boiled thrillers hip-deep in blood and sadism: I am too squeamish.)
Missing, Presumed tells the story of a high profile missing person investigation. The victim, Edith Hind, is a beautiful Cambridge postgrad from a well-connected family, and one of the themes of the novel is the appearance of perfection – with the rather more nuanced reality being revealed during the course of the investigation.
Counterbalancing Edith’s glossy surface-brilliance is the detective heading up the case: Manon Bradshaw is single, 39, and having a miserable time internet dating. Her life is back to back shifts at Cambridgeshire’s major crime unit and crying in the second floor toilets.
My first assumption when I contacted Cambridgeshire police to research the novel was that they would never help me. They probably wouldn’t even reply. Yet six women detectives in CID got in touch, all enthusiastic about working on the manuscript. My second assumption was that none of them would have Manon’s background.
I chose a detective at random and began to email her my questions. I told her my detective, unlikely though it might sound, had studied at Cambridge. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I went to Cambridge, so did my DI.’
She helped enormously in the first year, but her expertise didn’t cover major crime. I needed access to the murder squad, so I emailed the chief superintendant there (who incidentally, went to Cambridge), again thinking I wouldn’t get a look in, and he said, ‘When can you come in?’
During my time with the murder squad – which, before you get excited, is a room full of desktop computers and some white boards – I interviewed people who did every job on the team. And during the course of those interviews I met the detective who was to help me most. DS Graham McMillan, or Macca as he’s known.
Macca is very passionate about his job – excited by the puzzle of police work. Yet, while lots of police officers cleave to procedure in a literal way (‘No, that wouldn’t happen, that is not how we do things’), Maca can get into the imaginative mindset of creating a fictional investigation. So, he would say, ‘No, that wouldn’t happen, but maybe if he’d left his phone on in the car, then the signal would lead them to believe…’
Maca is a lover of crime fiction.
He is now helping me with a second Manon Bradshaw novel.
Susie Steiner began her writing career as a news reporter first on local papers, then on the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. In 2001 she joined the Guardian, where she worked as a commissioning editor for 11 years. Her first novel, Homecoming – described as ‘truly exceptional’ by the Observer – was published by Faber & Faber in 2013. She lives in London with her husband and two children.