I just finished reading Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner (Random House, 2016). This is a complex suspense story told with skill and insight. The author is a journalist and featured writer for The Guardian, and she takes advantage of her experiences in the press to subtly critique the devastating effects that media exposure can have on individuals caught up in a criminal investigation. The story centers around two weary police officers, bored with their night-shift responsibilities, who eagerly grab the chance to take the lead on a missing persons case. Manon and Davy fulfill many of the typical buddy-cop tropes: Manon is female, late thirties, and jaded by the job and her disastrous love life; Davy is male, twenty-something, optimistic and upbeat, and happily occupied with his steady girlfriend and his volunteer work with underprivileged youth.
The missing person is Edith Hind, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of a wealthy and well-connected doctor, Sir Ian Hind, and his wife, Miriam. Edith and her live-in boyfriend, Will Carter, are post-grad students at Cambridge. It’s Will who discovers that Edith is missing and reports her disappearance to the police. Evidence found in Edith’s house lead the police to conclude that foul play might be involved, and that the “misper,” Edith, might be in danger. The investigation also reveals the fact that Edith was last seen in the company of her best friend, Helena.
So far, this may seem to be a common, trite, and derivative story, one that we’ve seen on TV and in movies dozens of times. What sets this story apart from others is the author’s skillful use of point-of-view. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the main characters–detectives Manon and Davy, mother Miriam, and friend Helena. It’s Manon’s viewpoint that dominates the narrative, however, and therefore it is her character that is the most completely developed. There is humor to be found in the way she sees herself versus the way the other character view her. We discover that her acerbic wit and grouchy misanthropy form a protective shell around a heart that has been hurt and disappointed too many times. Again, this may seem like a standard, worn-out character type, but Steiner’s honest portrayal of Manon’s grudges, self-doubts, failures, and suspicions, as well as her genuine sympathy and dogged determination to solve the case help us to care deeply about Manon.
The same holds true for the other characters. We glimpse into the heart of a mother who can’t accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone forever. We agonize with the friend whose private life is painfully exposed to the public just because of her association with the missing girl. We marvel at the resilient idealism of a young man whose earnest desire is to do good in the face of frustrating obstacles. Finally, we peek into the insatiable greed for salacious gossip and sensational headlines that has become the hallmark of the modern-day press.
An unexpected plunge into romance, a seemingly unrelated murder, and a heart-breaking look into the complexities involved in helping at-risk urban youth round out this satisfying police-procedural novel. I have only one caveat: because the story takes place in England, the author employs acronyms and other terminology that may be difficult for the American reader to decode. Having said that, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will highly recommend it. The story is engaging and features enough revelations and plot twists to satisfy a mystery-lover like myself. Manon and the other characters will stay with me for a long time.