Missing, Presumed

Missing, Presumed

Title: Missing, Presumed

Author: Susie Steiner

Review by Joe Phelan

To say that detective novels are ten a penny is something of an understatement. They clog the shelves of bookshops, taking up space that could conceivably be taken up by novels containing at least a little bit of imagination or originality.

With that in mind, it probably comes as no surprise to find that I’m always sceptical when picking up a novel with a blurb that contains the words ‘crime’, ‘detective’ or ‘investigation’. It’s not that I am averse to immersing myself in a police thriller, it’s just I’ve trodden those particular paths so many times that it takes something very special to get me excited.

Which brings me nicely to Missing, Presumed, Susie Steiner’s first foray into the world of criminal activity and police procedure. The book, which has been sat on my shelf for the best part of six months, has been ignored in favour of others that have something a bit different about them – generally a quirky title or a shiny cover. However, last weekend, with no titles whetting my appetite, I decided to give Steiner’s book a chance.

And it is probably the best literary decision I’ve made for a long, long time.

Anything but run-of-the-mill

To all intents and purposes, this is not a detective novel. This is a story of people – real people, with real problems – who also happen to work for the police force. It’s a tale that could easily have taken place against the backdrop of factory workers, postmen or traffic wardens; this is an account of people whose personal lives have defined how and why they work the way they do. It’s an absolutely fascinating journey into a storytelling environment that has, in recent years, become saturated beyond belief.

Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw is, on the surface, a walking police cliché; she’s single, unlucky in love, envious of her friends, yet very good at her job. However, that’s where the formulaic elements end; as we see more and more of DS Bradshaw’s life we realise that she is lonely, frustrated and, most importantly, altogether human. She’s far from a perfect role model, and that only makes her worthy of additional empathy.

It only takes a couple of chapters for Manon to become something far more substantial than mere words on a page, and that owes much to Steiner’s ability to delicately craft her book’s cast. Each character is, of course, a work of fiction, but during the course of the novel’s progression, they take on the significance of real people.

I haven’t found myself as engrossed or invested in a novel since Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. And, while Missing, Presumed doesn’t quite hit the preposterous heights reached in J. K. Rowling’s pseudonymous novel, it gets closer than nearly every other book I’ve picked up in 2016.

The art of engagement

Whether portrayed via the medium of film, novel or theatre production, only the most exceptional pieces of work truly draw me in and make me connect with the characters. It’s incredibly rare that I can forget a piece of fiction is just that; a made-up story concocted in the mind of the author.

Now, I realise that such an admission could make me appear pretentious or somewhat of a snob, but that is by no means the case. I can enjoy a novel while remaining very aware that it’s just a piece of art, but there’s something special about being sucked so deep into a book that you start to resent having other commitments. Missing, Presumed is a book that grabs you by the wrist and doesn’t let go, and I urge you to go out and grab a copy.

Review by Joe Phelan

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