Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
A student has been missing for 72 hours. Her parents are bearing up.
Detective Sergeant Manon is bearing down.
Edith Hind, the beautiful, earnest Cambridge post-grad living on the outskirts of the city has left nothing behind but a streak of blood and her coat hanging up for her boyfriend, Will, to find. The news spreads fast: to her parents, prestigious doctor Sir Ian and Lady Hind, and straight on to the police.
Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw soothes her insomnia with the din of the police radio she keeps by her bed. After another bad date, it takes the crackling voices to lull her to sleep. But one night she hears something. A girl is missing. For Manon the hunt for Edith Hind might be the career-defining case she has been waiting for. For the family this is the beginning of their nightmare.
As Manon sinks her teeth into the investigation and lines up those closest to Edith, she starts to smooth out the kinks in their stories and catch the eyes that won’t meet hers. But when disturbing facts come to light, the stakes jolt up and Manon has to manage the wave of terror that erupts from the family.
In Missing, Presumed, Steiner marries the depth of character and observation of literary fiction with the pace and suspense of a crime novel, in a stunning work that shows what it is to solve, and what it is to endure.
The hunt for Edith Hind starts here
Extract: Chapter One
17 December 2010
She can feel hope ebbing, like the Christmas lights on fade in Pound Saver. Manon tells herself to focus on the man sitting opposite, whose name might be Brian but could equally be
Keith, who is crossing his legs and his foot bangs her shin just where the bone is nearest the surface. She reaches down to rub it but he’s oblivious.
‘Sensitive’, his profile had said, along with an interest in military aircraft. She wonders now what on earth she was thinking when she arranged it, but then compatibility seemed no marker for anything. The last date with a town planner scored 78 per cent – she’d harboured such hopes; he even liked Thomas Hardy – yet Manon spent the evening flinching each time his spittle landed on her face, which was remarkably often.
Two years of Internet dating. It’s fair to say they haven’t flown by. He’s turned his face so the light hits the thumb prints on his glasses: petroleum purple eggs, the kind of oval spiral they dream of finding at a crime scene. He’s talking about his job with the Rivers Authority while she looks up gratefully to the waiter who is filling their wine glasses – well, her glass, because her companion isn’t drinking.
She’s endured far worse than this, of course, like the one she travelled all the way to London for. ‘Keep an open mind,’ Bri had urged. ‘You don’t know where the man of your dreams might pop up.’ He was tall and very thin and he stooped like an undertaker going up the escalator at Tate Modern – giving it his best Uriah Heep. Manon thought that escalator ride was never going to end and when she finally got to the top, she turned without a word and came straight back down, leaving him standing at the summit, staring at her. She got on the first train out of King’s Cross, back to Huntingdon, as if fleeing the scent of decomposing flesh. Every officer on the Major Incident Team knew that smell, the way it stuck to your clothes.
This one – she’s looking at him now, whatever his name is, Darren or Barry – isn’t so much morbid as effacing. He is talking about newts, she’s vaguely aware of this. Now he’s raising his eyebrows – ‘Shopping trolleys!’ – and she supposes he’s making a wry comment about how often they’re dumped in streams. She really must engage.
‘So, one week till Christmas,’ she says. ‘How are you spending it?’
He looks annoyed that she’s diverted him from the flow of his rivers. ‘I’ve a brother in Norwich,’ he says. ‘I go to him. He’s got kids.’ He seems momentarily disappointed and she likes him the more for it.
‘Not an easy time, Christmas. When you’re on your own, I mean.’
‘We have a pretty good time, me and Col, once we crack open the beers. We’re a right double act.’
Perhaps his name’s Terry, she thinks, sadly. Too late to ask now. ‘Shall we get the bill?’ He hasn’t even asked about her name – and most men do (‘Manon, that’s a funny name. Is it Welsh?’) – but in a sense it’s a relief, the way he just ploughs on.
The waiter brings the bill and it lies lightly curled on a white saucer with two mint imperials.
‘Shall we split it?’ says Manon, throwing a card onto the saucer. He is sucking on a mint, looking at the bill.
‘To be fair,’ he says, ‘I didn’t have any wine. Here.’ He shows her the items on the bill that were hers – carafe of red and a side salad.
‘Yes, right, OK,’ she says, while he gets out his phone and begins totting up. The windows are fogged and Manon peers at the misty halos of Huntingdon’s festive lights. It’ll be a cold walk home past the shuttered-up shops on the high street, the sad, beery air emanating from Cromwell’s, and out towards the river, its refreshing green scent and its movement a slithering in the darkness, to her flat where she has left all the lights burning.
‘Yours comes to £23.85. Mine’s only £11,’ he says. ‘D’you want to check?’
Midnight and Manon sits with her knees up on the window seat, looking down at the snowy street lit by orange street lamps. Flakes float down on their leisurely journey, buffeting, tissue-light. The freezing draught coming in through the sash frame makes her hug her knees to her chest as she watches him – Alan? Bernard? – round the corner of her street and disappear.
When she’s sure he’s gone, she walks a circuit of the lounge, turning off the lamps. To give him credit, he was stopped short by her flat – ‘Whoa, this is where you live?’ – but his interest was short lived and he soon recommenced his monologue. Perhaps, now she comes to think of it, she slept with him to shut him up.
The walls of the lounge are Prussian blue. The shelving on which the television stands is Fifties G-Plan in walnut. Her sofa is a circular design in brown corduroy. Two olive-green velvet wing chairs sit to each side of it and beside one is a yellow domed Seventies floor lamp, which she has just switched off at the plug because the switch is bust. The décor is a homage to mid-century modern, like a film set, with every detail of a piece. The scene for a post-ironic East German comedy perhaps, or Abigail’s Party; a place absolutely bursting with taste of a charismatic kind, all of it chosen by the flat’s previous owners. Manon bought the lot – furniture, lamps, and all – together with the property itself, from a couple who were going abroad to ‘start afresh’. At least, that’s what the man had said. ‘We just want to shed, you know?’ To which Manon replied, ‘Shed away. I’ll take the lot.’ And his girlfriend looked around her, swallowing down her tears. She told Manon how she’d collected all of it, lovingly, on eBay. ‘Still, fresh start,’ she said.
Manon makes her way to the bedroom, which at the point of sale was even more starkly dramatic: dark navy walls with white-painted floorboards and shutters; a whole bank of white wardrobes, handle-less and disappearing into themselves. You had to do a Marcel Marceau impression to discover the pressure points at which to open them.
The previous owners had a minimalist mattress on the floor and a dishevelled white duvet. Under Manon’s tenure, however, this room has lost much of its allure: books stacked by the bed, covered with a film of dust; a cloudy glass of water; wires trailing the floor from her police radio to the plug, and among them grey fluff and human hair, coiling like DNA. Her motley collection of shoes makes opening the cupboards additionally tricky. She kicks at a discarded pair of pants on the floor, rolled about themselves like a croissant, throws off her dressing gown (100 per cent polyester, keep away from fire and flame) and retrieves, from under the bed-clothes in which he has incongruously lain, her flannelette nightie.
Up close he smelt musty. And vaguely sweet. But above all, foreign. Was this her experiment – bringing him close, out of the world of strangers? Was she trying him out? Or smelling him out, as if intimacy might transform him into something less ordinary? People who know her – well, Bryony mainly – disapprove of her emotional ‘immaturity’, but the fact is human beings are different up close. You find out more through smell and touch than any chat about newts or shopping trollies. She becomes her mammalian self, using her senses to choose a mate. She’s read somewhere that smell is the most efficient way of selecting from the gene pool to ensure the best immune system in offspring. So she puts out on the first date! She’s a scientist at the mating frontline.
In her darker moments – and she can feel their approach even now – she wonders if she is simply filling an awkward gap in the conversation. Instead of a ghastly shuffling of feet and ‘well, that was nice, but we should probably leave it there’, she forces the moment to its crisis. It’s like running yourself over to avoid shaking hands.
In the bathroom, she picks up her toothbrush and lays along it a slug of toothpaste, watching herself in the mirror as she brushes. Here is the flaw in her argument: the sex was pretty much a reflection of the night’s conversation: all newts and shopping trollies and a definite lack of tumultuous waterfalls or even babbling brooks, if you wanted to pursue the waterways analogy.
She looks at the springy coils of her hair, bobbing ringlets, brown mostly but with the odd blonde one poking out like a rogue pasta twirl – spit – unruly and energetic, as if she is some child in a playground, and discordant now – spit – that she is on the cusp of her forties. She can feel herself gliding into that invisible – gargle – phase of womanhood, alongside those pushing prams or pulling shopping wheelies. She is drawn to the wider fittings in Clarks, has begun to have knee trouble and is disturbed to find that clipping her toenails leaves her vaguely out of puff. She wonders what other indignities ageing will throw at her and how soon. A few centuries ago she’d be dead, having had eight children by the age of twenty-five. Nature doesn’t know what to do with a childless woman of thirty-nine, except throw her that fertility curve ball – aches and pains combined with extra time, like some terrifying end to a high-stakes football match.
She wipes a blob of foam off her chin with a towel. Eventually, he asked about her name (her moment in the sun!) and she told him it meant ‘bitter’ in Hebrew, and she lay back on the pillow, remembering how her mother had squeezed her secondary-school shoulders and told her how much she’d loved it; how ‘Manon’ was her folly, much as her father objected. A Marmite name, you either loved it or loathed it, and her mother loved it, she said, because it was ‘all held down’, those Ns like tent pegs in the ground.
There was silence, in which she supposed he wanted her to ask about his name, which she couldn’t really, because she wasn’t sure what it was. She could have said, ‘What about yours?’ as a means of finding out, but by that point it seemed unnecessary. She had smelt him out and found him wanting. Her mind was set on how to get him out of her flat, which she did by saying, ‘Right then, early start tomorrow,’ and holding open her bedroom door. She smoothes out the pillow and duvet where he’s been and pushes her feet down under the covers, reaching out an arm from the bed to switch on the radio, with its sticker reminding her it remains ‘Property of Cambridgeshire Police’. A cumbersome bit of kit, and no one at detective sergeant rank is supposed to have one at home, but it is not a plaything. It is the method by which she overcomes insomnia. Some rely on the shipping forecast; Manon prefers low murmurings about road traffic accidents or drunken altercations outside Level 2 Nightclub on All Saints Passage, all of which she can safely ignore because they are far too lowly for the Major Incident Team.
‘VB, VB, mobile unit to Northern Bypass, please; that’s the A141, junction with Main Street. UDAA.’
Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile. Someone’s nicked some wheels. Off you pop, Plod. The voice begins to sound very far away as Manon’s eyelids grow heavy, the burbling of the radio merging into a pebbly blur behind her eyes. The clicks, switches, whirring, receivers picked up and put down, colleagues conferred with, buttons pressed to receive. To Manon, it is the sound of vigilance, this rapid response to hurt and misdeed. It is human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad. She sleeps.
About the author: Susie Steiner began her writing career as a news reporter first on local papers, then on the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. In 2001 she joined the Guardian, where she worked as a commissioning editor for 11 years. Her first novel, Homecoming was published by Faber in 2013. Steiner lives in London with her husband and two children.