It’s not often you read about a driven, obsessional detective enjoying their sunny home life. Our favourite detectives are more often laconic loners, their most intimate relationships with the pint glass or whiskey tumbler. We identify with the flaws that threaten them, their loneliness allowing them the role of observer, at the edge of the social group, quietly scrutinizing the players within.
Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw, the lead in my new novel Missing, Presumed, is solitary though unlike determined loners such as Holmes or Miss Marple, Manon yearns for love and a family of her own, and is enduring some of the worst dates in Internet history in her bid to find it. Her online dating profile, copied off a woman called Liz Temple from Berkhampstead, is a litany of schlock and fabrication:
Genuine, easy-going. I love life and laughter, a bottle of wine with friends, cinema and walks in the countryside. Passionate about what I do. Looking for someone to share all this amazing world has to offer.
Looking for: fun/a long-term relationship/let’s see what happens
Likes: sunshine, the smell of fresh coffee, walks on the beach
Dislikes: unexpected items in bagging area
A more truthful version would read:
Misanthrope, staring down the barrel of childlessness. Yawning ability to find fault. Can give off WoD (Whiff of Desperation). A vast, bottomless galaxy of loneliness. Educated: to an intimidating degree. Willing to hide this. Prone to tears. Can be needy. Often found Googling ‘having a baby at 40’.
Looking for: book-reading philanthropist with psychotherapy training who can put up shelves. Can wear glasses (relaxed about this).
Dislikes: most of the fucktards I meet on the Internet.
So what would happen if Morse, Holmes and Miss Marple took to Soulmates or Match.com – or, heaven forfend, started swiping away at Tinder – in search of love? Who would take on the short-temper, the prickliness, the self-sufficiency and fierce intelligence of this triumvirate? Perhaps their secret is, an awful lot of us would like to.
Irascible curmudgeon entrenched in middle age, with penchant for real ale, Wagner, poetry, art and cryptic crosswords. Likes to patronise intellectual inferiors, yet beneath this brusque exterior beats a heart yearning for love and companionship. Tricky relationship with authority figures. Thinking woman’s crumpet.
Looking for: an intellectual equal, who can overlook the odd patronising aside, while appreciating the pleasures of a vintage Jaguar and a pint at The Randoph Hotel bar. Involvement in current criminal investigation not a problem.
Dislikes: Hearing anything about Lewis’s domestic life. Pop music. Idiots.
Clear-eyed rationalist, possibly on the spectrum. Averse to feminine hysteria. Wearer of natty hats. Believes strongly in science-based detection. Bohemian in lifestyle (I keep my tobacco in my slipper!); prone to hoarding documents but with a sensual love of personal cleanliness. Exciteable during cases, yet inhumanly cold in all other areas, ‘"I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind."
Looking for: Someone with a chap’s sensibility – a physician perhaps? – who might assist in the most tangled of criminal investigations while sharing lodgings. All aspects of domestic life to be taken care of by Mrs Hudson. Intimacy not required. An interest in forensics an advantage.
Dislikes: Anyone who says, ‘We need to talk about our relationship’. Also, hunches, histrionics etc etc.
Professional biddy. Grey haired, ‘with a gentle, appealing manner’. Behind this seeming innocuous exterior, however, is a shrewd intelligence and razor sharp hearing (no casual comment will go unnoticed). Seemingly vast experience of human darkness (for someone who has barely left the village of St Mary Mead). This worldly hinterland is useful for both dating and solving crimes.
Looking for: Companion in knitting, gardening and gossip. Ability to ‘blend in’ of crucial importance. Must accept deep pessimism about human behaviour hidden behind superficially-cheersome façade.
Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is published on Feb 25 by Borough Press priced £12.99