The Real Prime Suspect: From the Beat to the Screen. My life as a Detective, by Jackie Malton and Hélène Mulholland

Today I am sharing my thoughts on The Real Prime Suspect, the memoir of former Met Police Detective Jackie Malton, the inspiration behind the character of Jane Tennison in Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect. I won a copy of the book in a Twitter competition last year and it’s been calling to me from the TBR pile ever since. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Owned Copy
Release Date: 25 August 2022
Publisher: Endeavour

About the Book

When Jackie Malton joined the police force in 1970, male recruits were given a truncheon and female recruits were given a handbag. At every step, she fought sexism and homophobia on top of the rapists, murderers, and armed robbers she tackled in the streets. And when she was harassed by her own colleagues for reporting bent coppers, Jackie was thrown into a shame and isolation that she tried to dim with alcohol. At the height of her success, as she became one of only three female detective chief inspectors in the Met, and as a chance meeting with the writer Lynda La Plante catapulted her into the world of TV, Jackie was battling her own demons harder than ever before.

In this thrilling and revealing memoir, meet the real woman behind the iconic character Jane Tennison ­- every bit as tenacious, determined, and fearless, with an extraordinary story to tell.

My Thoughts

If you ever want to understand how far the world, and more specifically, the Police Force, has come, or perhaps maybe hasn’t, in terms of equal treatment of women, then this is definitely a book to read. It’s an eye opener, one which makes me thankful that I was born a couple of decades further along than author Jackie Malton, and one that makes me understand how far we still have to come. Joining the police force in 1970, she navigated her way through a male dominated career, one which in which sexism, racism and homophobia was commonplace. It would be nice to think that things have changed dramatically in the modern police force, and as the author acknowledges, there have been numerous improvements, but there is still a long way to go. Leading readers through her early years in the Leicestershire police force, to her transfer to the Met Police and her progression through the ranks, Jackie Malton shares some of the cases and events which shaped both her career and her life, with a brutal honesty that really makes you think.

From the enforced segregation of the sexes in her early years as a WPC, through to a career that included time in the Flying Squad, Financial Crimes, CID and hostage negotiation training, Jackie Malton outlines the internal prejudice that was rife through some of her postings. From what amounts to abuse in terms of a ‘hazing’ style welcome to CID, the blatant sexism of certain colleagues and the emotional impact of being ostracised following her reporting of a corrupt colleague, her story is told in a no-nonsense, matter of fact style that really helped to engage, and often outrage, me as a reader. Being not only a woman, but a lesbian, in a job that was dominated by very archaic attitudes, certainly placed the author in a position of conflict, and not only with the perpetrators of various crimes. The behaviour of some is shocking, and rightfully anger inducing in anyone with a conscience or sense of decency, it is, sadly, just a sign of the prevailing attitude of the time

But far from being a constant condemnation of the patriarchy, the books gives a very balanced view of the police, the good and the bad, and many of Jackie Malton’s male colleagues served to have a very positive influence on her career. It’s fair to say that she had to work just that little bit harder to achieve the same as her male counterparts, but what comes through strong and clear is her determination and compassion towards the community that she served. Outlining some of the key, and most memorable cases of her career, it is easy to chart why, and where, the psychological impact of her job started to manifest in her day to day life. Mental health issues that begin to manifest as a drinking problem, may seem like overused genre tropes when it comes to crime fiction, but, as Jackie Malton’s memoir highlights, they are not cliches, they are real life.

One of the interesting parts of this book is where Jackie Malton is introduced to Lynda La Plante. Her personal life, and the battles with both alcohol and the patriarchy of the police force, were set to be immortalised on film – the extremely successful and popular Prime Suspect. So much of the author’s life really is reflected in the character of Jane Tennison, so much so that even colleagues were known to remark that it made for uncomfortable viewing because they knew that it was true. For those who have watched the show and probably written it off as just exaggerated entertainment, perhaps take a moment to reflect on that fact. From her involvement in advising for the series, she became involved in a real staple of my youthful viewing, The Bill, and other TV series as both advisor and presenter. But it is the way in which she has used her own battle with alcohol to carve out a new career after the police that really shows the measure of her as a person, turning to a role of counsellor to offenders in a bid to help them make a fresh start after leaving prison.

This book is a sometimes shocking, always honest and very personal look at someone who fought hard for acceptance in her career, inspiring other women officers and helping to instigate some of the very necessary changes that the Police force required. Dedicated in the face of conflict, Jackie Malton comes across as someone who, although troubled and considerably impacted by everything she experienced, worked always with integrity and compassion. I suspect it would be hard for anyone to walk away from this kind of history completely unscathed, but this book certainly contains a good deal of hope, as well as some moments of clear humour, that kept me engaged and inspired to the very end. In all these days of negative headlines about the Met Police, it’s good to be reminded that the vast majority, like Jackie Malton, really have made a positive difference. Definitely recommended.

About the Author

Jackie Malton was a police officer for twenty-eight years. During her career she worked in the drugs squad, CID, the flying squad, fraud squad and as a hostage negotiator. Jackie acted as an adviser on Prime Suspect and has consulted on many popular police dramas including Cracker, The Bill and Life on Mars. She presented the documentary series, The Real Prime Suspect. Jackie regularly gives talks on policing and currently volunteers in a male prison supporting offenders recovering from addiction.

Hélène Mulhollandhas been a journalist for over twenty years and previously worked at the Guardian as a political reporter. Hélène now works on a freelance basis. The Real Prime Suspect is her first book.

2 thoughts on “The Real Prime Suspect: From the Beat to the Screen. My life as a Detective, by Jackie Malton and Hélène Mulholland

    1. It’s really good. She didn’t have an easy life and the stresses did impact, but such a great profile of how Jackie constantly chipped away at what was considered normal to make her mark.

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