Scandal – a very British scandal, stiff upper lip, what will the neighbors say?
I stumbled across Susie Steiner, the author of the DS Manon Bradshaw series, when I read of her death, July 2nd, in the Guardian (and, by the way, this is an enjoyable obituary, if an obituary can be said to be ‘enjoyable’! https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jul/13/susie-steiner-obituary). Steiner was a former journalist who lived with retinitis pigmentosa and succumbed, at the very premature age of 51, to brain cancer. The obituary notes that Ms. Steiner had an “…interest and intuitive understanding of the dynamics between people, [an] ability to be alive to the complexities of their desires and their frailties, and [a] commitment to exploring questions of justice and equality…” which animates her series.
The mystery in Missing. Presumed revolves around the suspected abduction of a lovely, wealthy, white Cambridge post-graduate named Edith Hind. Her father, Sir Ian Hind, is a physician to the royal family, thus upping the profile of, what we all know, would already have been a pretty high profile case. The interviewing and analyzing the assumed crime scene are done well; nothing earth shattering, but the audience is definitely pulled along with the case as we get to know the principals, primarily Manon and her partner, DC Davy Walker. After a lull, a body is fished from a river and the case heats up again. This mechanism allows us to meet Fly Kent, a black child who is preternaturally calm and wise beyond his years. While there is something of a ‘magical Negro’ trope to his character (ie, he helps Manon get a bit more in touch with and in control of her emotions (she’s 39!), he provides insights, etc.), and he is one of the few people of color in the book, he is also a delight, even as he is barely surviving a drug-addled mother.
Your mileage for this book and the series will vary depending on how well you like DS Bradshaw. She is a hot mess with poor impulse control. She is desperately lonely and has a police radio by her bed at night to lull her to sleep. As she heads home, she describes what she calls ‘the daily slog of being alone’: “The problem of food, for one: it symbolizes everything. She wants delicious morsels, yet cooking for herself is so defeating: a surplus of ingredients, the washing-up unshared, and the sense that it doesn’t matter—the production of it or whether it’s nice.” Despite all of the drudge she describes, Manon is funny and, while she doesn’t trust people much, she also really enjoys them. This really shines through in her relationship with Davy, but also as she interacts with potential informants, other police officers, and her best friend.
In addition, this book is a lovely meditation on loneliness and grief. As I noted in previous reviews, we’ve had a year, as a family, of losing (‘losing’?! what a terrible euphemism for death!) family members, so meditation on loss and grief have special meaning for me right now. Steiner does a lovely, compassionate job of writing about the days and how grief hits differently over time, but it still hits. (As a very long aside, one of my favorite songs by Laurie Anderson is White Lily, which is a meditation on life, but also resonates, for me, with grief: What Fassbinder film is it? The one-armed man comes into the flower shop and says: “What flower expresses ‘days go by, and they just keep going by endlessly, endlessly pulling you into the future. Days go by endlessly, endlessly pulling you into the future?’ And the florist says: “White Lily.”) An example of Steiner’s meticulous language of grief: “Manon knows what lies beneath, how people can seem normal and yet grief swirls about like an unseen tide working against the currents of life, the mourner wrong-footed by its undertow. The bereaved should wear signs, she thinks, saying GRIEF IN PROGRESS—for at least a couple of years.”
For all of the faults, I enjoyed Missing, Presumed, and, as long as you aren’t looking for a crackerjack of a mystery and you do want lovingly drawn. flawed women, this is an enjoyable, engaging read.