The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the time is nigh for page-turners that will keep us from going into premature hibernation. Missing, Presumed by Sadie Steiner is one I recommend for those of you who like a dose of literary character development with your fictional tales of mystery, murder, and mayhem.
At the start of the novel, Detective Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire police is lamenting her latest disastrous date when she receives an alert about a missing female. Edith Hind, a beautiful postgraduate student and the beloved daughter of the Royal Family's surgeon, has disappeared from her home, leaving behind her phone, keys, shoes, and coat. A broken wineglass and a trail of blood suggest that Edith was taken against her will, and that the crucial window of time to save her is closing. As the police interview Edith's family, boyfriend, and closest cohorts, secrets emerge about her complicated love life, which the tabloids quickly proliferate with little respect for anyone's privacy. When the body of a young man is found in a nearby river, connections to Edith's disappearance seem tentative but impossible to ignore.
The dogged single female detective, or dogged single female protagonist who becomes deeply invested in solving a crime, has become a popular character type in fictional mysteries (see TV series like Prime Suspect, The Fall, or Marcella). Manon occupies this role somewhat unwillingly. While she presents herself as brazenly independent, she at times feels painfully lonely; she is cynical but persistent in her attempts to find companionship. As Manon navigates two unpredictable worlds, one of crime and the other of online dating, she exposes the gulf between how we present ourselves and how we actually feel. This split between interior and exterior distresses Edith's best friend, who faces the scrutiny of the public eye into her personal affairs. It is also the reality of Miriam, Edith's mother, as her experience of grief and hopelessness isolates her from her husband and friends. When certain characters fail to reveal their interior motivations, we feel Manon's frustration.
We are not how we appear. Mysteries play upon this truth to a somewhat extreme degree. All of us are selective in how we present ourselves to others; our lives are messier than the facades we construct. In Missing, Presumed, and especially for the novel's female characters, this public/private division is both a burden and, at times, a necessity that should be honored. In a genre in which the ultimate goal is to know everything, the interior lives of others will always be, to some extent, unknowable.