Susie Steiner, author of stylish British thrillers, dies at 51

At a writers’ retreat in the South West of England, Guardian journalist Susie Steiner spotted a poster that seemed to capture the essence of British stoicism in five uplifting words: “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Printed in block white letters on a plain red background, the message was a source of solace for Ms Steiner, especially as she was working on her first novel, a family drama about sheep farmers on the Yorkshire moors.

When she returned to her newspaper’s office in late 2005, she included the poster in an article about her favorite gifts for home, noting that the motivational image dated from World War II and had been rediscovered. a few years earlier by a second-hand bookshop in Northumberland. . “Truly,” she wrote, “there is no better mantra to live by. »

After her story was published, “all hell broke loose,” said Barter Books co-owner Stuart Manley, who had started selling copies of the poster after finding one of the original prints in a box of old books. In a 2020 interview with the Guardian, he credited Ms Steiner’s article with turning the poster into a national phenomenon, leading to a slew of spin-off mugs, postcards, flags and pint glasses bearing cheeky messages. like “Keep Calm and Drink On”.

Like other Britons, Ms Steiner became enraged by the trend, even as she took its message to heart. She spent more than a decade working on her farm novel, “Homecoming,” and by the time it was published in 2013, she had lost most of her vision to an inherited disorder. She was found to be legally blind just six months after selling the book at an auction.

“Sometimes it can seem like just when you get the thing you want most in life, something else is taken away from you, like a celestial reckoning is going on,” she wrote in an article at ‘era.

Relying on a small window of vision in her right eye, she went on to write critically acclaimed novels about a volatile but sympathetic police detective, Manon Bradshaw, who solves murders in Cambridgeshire even as she struggles to raise her adopted son as a single mother and deals with mundane domestic issues like a broken coat rack. “His sexual fantasies, such as they are, usually involve men doing minor tinkering while maintaining their emotional balance,” Ms. Steiner wrote.

Just after handing in the manuscript for her third and final Bradshaw book, “Remain Silent,” in May 2019, Ms Steiner was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. She had written the novel, she later said, “with a 3.5-inch tumor pushing my brain over its midline. But I was unaware. »

Ms Steiner was 51 when she died on July 2 at a hospital in the Hampstead area of ​​London. Her husband, Tom Happold, confirmed the death from cancer.

While Ms. Steiner’s first novel was generally well received, she established her reputation as a stylish, witty writer after branching out into detective fiction with her best-selling Bradshaw books. sellers in England and found a large following in the United States. The first two volumes, ‘Missing, Presumed’ (2016) and ‘Persons Unknown’ (2017), were shortlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, a supreme honor for British detective fiction.

Both books were “saved from becoming a soap opera thanks to winning prose, likable characters, and an appreciation of life’s joys as keen as a knowledge of its dangers,” wrote Wall Street Journal reviewer Tom Nolan. .

“What I loved about Susie’s detective writing was that she combined an exceptional type of character study with superbly plotted mystery and police procedurals,” said her American editor, Andrea Walker of Random House, in an email. “The personal life of Detective Manon Bradshaw – the mystery of how she might find true love; how she could be a working mother without having a mental breakdown; how she could lose the extra 20 pounds she’s been carrying for decades – carried as much weight as the mystery behind the story’s central crime.

“Long before the proliferation of this kind of character-driven crime series on Netflix and the success of a show like ‘Mare of Easttown’,” she added, “Susie was writing this kind of fiction. »

Susan Elizabeth Steiner was born in London on June 29, 1971 and grew up in the north of the city, where she studied at the Henrietta Barnett School for Girls. Her parents, John Steiner and the former Deborah Pickering, were both psychoanalysts. By writing novels that explored characters’ fears, dreams, motivations and hidden desires, Ms. Steiner effectively became a psychoanalyst herself, her husband said in a telephone interview.

Ms Steiner said she was an ‘obsessive journal writer’ as a teenager – ‘mostly melodrama about my heightened emotional states’ – and turned to journalism during her first year at University of York, when she started writing for a student publication. called Nouse, in what she described as an effort to “make it seem like I always wanted to do journalism.”

After graduating with a BA in English in 1993, she wrote for newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, Times of London and Guardian, which she joined in 2001. She worked there as a writer and editor , focusing on lifestyle articles, while writing fiction on the side, and left the paper in 2012 to become a full-time writer.

By then she had stopped driving due to retinitis pigmentosa, the genetic condition that had blinded her. As his vision diminished, the writing seemed to get easier. “My loss of sight, which only began to limit me in the past five years, has accompanied an increase in my creative output as a novelist,” she wrote in a 2016 essay for The Independent. “The two seem linked, like the less I can see the world, the more I can focus on myself. »

Ms Steiner married Happold, a former Guardian journalist who now runs a video production agency, in 2006. In addition to her husband, survivors include two sons, George and Ben; his parents; a brother; and a sister.

Before beginning her cancer treatments, Ms Steiner began researching a potential novel based on the life of Bernard Spilsbury, a British pathologist and pioneer of modern forensics. This project was put on hold during her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, when reading became a ‘lifeline’ as she turned to books about mortality, grief and cancer, while isolated at home. home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It behooves writers to make sense of the terror of illness,” she wrote in a 2020 essay for the Guardian, “because the people who suffer – the lonely, sick and bereaved – need the comfort that stories provide, to see their suffering reflected in the suffering of the characters. I’m not sure I want to read confinement novels: it’s already hard enough to live it. There are now 35,000 additional bereaved individuals or families. This seems to be a more pressing need: to talk about mourning.

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