Sunday, 2 October 2016

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner



Ok, first off a confession. This whole "domestic noir" thing, Gone Girl, Girl On a Train, etc, etc, doesn't really do it for me. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against it, even enjoyed the Gone Girl film, but it doesn't really float my boat. To be fair I'm probably not the target demographic. At risk of being presumptive, I imagine the genre is targeted at a female audience. That said, I did enjoy the film of Gone Girl (as already said) and domestic noir is the hottest thing in crime fiction at the moment, so I thought I should really give such a book a go.

So along came Missing, Presumed on Netgalley. I put in my request, received the book for review, and here we are. Missing, Presumed tells the story of Edith Hind, a Cambridge student from an affluent, upper class family, who goes missing one frozen, winter night. Cambridge police are called in by her boyfriend who finds her front door open, blood in her kitchen, and possible signs of a struggle. The story follows the investigation and the wider milieu of Edith's friends and family as they cope with her disappearance.  Chapters alternate from different character's perspective, so we get the story from DS Manon Bradshaw (one of the cops) from Edith's mother, her best friend, etc.

This is a slow burner of a book, don't expect fast paced action or plot development. Many of the characters are a little odd, so we get a lot about Manon Bradshaw's internet dating, her loneliness, her trouble with men and the gulf that exists between her and her family. While Manon is the closest we come to a main character, much time is also spent with her friend Helena and her mother Miriam.

Putting aside that domestic noir isn't really my bag, there are some criticisms I have that I feel are relevant. To my mind Missing, Presumed spends too long with too many characters. In all there are chapters told from no less than seven different characters’ perspective. While Manon takes centre stage, in that more chapters are told from her point of view than anyone else's, the number of other characters we spend time with felt like too much. The constant chopping and changing perspective made it difficult for me to warm to any one character and I never felt really felt engaged by any of them.

More galling to me was the mistakes the author made regarding the police. This wouldn't normally bother me, in fact I think some writers try too hard at accuracy with regards to police procedure, filling their pages with turgid description upon turgid description of protocol. But in the acknowledgments at the back of the book she names not one, but three serving Cambridgeshire police officers as having assisted her. She also mentions that she was given a tour of Cambridgeshire's Major Crime Unit. If you're going to boast of such access, you better get it right.

So what does the author get wrong? First off, early in the book she refers to a WPC. Female police officers haven't been WPCs in years, they're now PCs like their male counterparts. This is an especially galling error for a female author to make. But worse is her prose concerning early interviews conducted by the police with Edith's boyfriend and some of the other witnesses. Quite frankly they're what PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the law which governs such things) terms "oppressive". In other words, the author has her police question these people aggressively. A little disclaimer, I have friends in the police, two serving officers and one ex-officer. I've had exhaustive conversations with them about how these things are done, and despite what is shown on the telly, British cops at least don't do aggressive interviewing. This is not a na├»ve point about British cops being ‘better than that’ or more ‘civilised’, it's just a fact. The scandals of miscarriages of justice of the past have forced their hand and PACE explicitly bans it. Of equal importance is that such tactics are just not as effective. What works, what the British police now do instead, is calmly draw the interviewee's story out, testing it all the while for inconsistencies. Don't believe me? Just watch footage released by the police of interviews with any famous convicted murderer. You can find such footage of interviews with Steve Wright, the Ipswich Strangler on Youtube. Even when they have the suspect bang to right, they never interview like the author describes in this book, they never get aggressive. They methodically trap the suspect in his lies, asking the same question repeatedly in different ways, prising open the gaps in their narrative. As I say, this wouldn't bother me in most novels, it's fiction after all. But if you are going to boast of your access in the acknowledgements then you're creating a hostage to fortune with any mistakes.

Having said all that, Missing, Presumed isn't a bad book. It's not a page turner exactly, but it's ok, it kept my interest. Would I recommend it? Putting aside my criticisms, if domestic noir is your thing then this might well be up your street.

3 out of 5 stars


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