The Real Prime Suspect is a jaw-dropping, gritty memoir from Jackie Malton, former DCI and the inspiration for legendary TV detective Jane Tennison in Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect.
Jackie Malton was a no-nonsense girl from Leicestershire who joined the police force in the 1970s. It was a time of sex segregation in the police force. Male recruits were given a truncheon; female recruits received a handbag and were assigned social work duties. But Jackie desperately wanted to become a detective. Feisty and determined, Jackie made her way into some of the most male-dominated departments of the police force. She worked in CID and the famous flying squad before rising to become one of only three female detective chief inspectors in the Metropolitan Police.
In The Real Prime Suspect, Malton describes the struggles she faced as an openly gay woman in the Metropolitan Police, where sexism and homophobia were rife. Utterly compelling, the book is rich with fascinating cases and intriguing characters from Jackie’s time on the force. Jackie dealt with rapists, wife beaters, murderers, blackmailers and armed robbers but it was tackling the corruption in her own station that proved the most challenging. Ostracised and harassed by fellow officers furious that she reported the illegality of some colleagues, Malton used alcohol to curb her anxiety. A chance meeting with writer Lynda La Plante five years later changed the course of her life. Together they worked on shaping Jane Tennison, one of TV’s most famous police characters, in the ground-breaking series Prime Suspect. Not long after, Malton recovered from alcoholism and now works as an AA volunteer in prison and as a TV consultant. Jackie Malton is a true trailblazer. She forged a path in a male-dominated world and through it all she remained true to herself. Jackie has spent her life working in crime. Now she’s ready to share her story.
Jackie Malton was a police officer for twentyeight years. During her career she worked in the drugs squad, CID, the flying squad (famously known as The Sweeney), fraud squad and as a hostage negotiator. She rose to become one of only three female detective chief inspectors in the Metropolitan Police.
Jackie has acted as an adviser on some of the most successful British crime dramas, including Prime Suspect, The Bill, Cracker, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Trial and Retribution and Murder Investigation Team. In 2019 she presented the documentary series, The Real Prime Suspect in which she revisited some of the most notorious murder cases. Most recently, she was interviewed for BBC 2’s documentary Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty; she appeared in Steve McQueen’s BAFTA-award-winning documentary Uprising about the New Cross Fire; and made a guest appearance on the new BBC Sounds podcast, Lady Killers with Lucy Worsley. Jackie regularly gives talks on policing and currently volunteers in a male prison supporting offenders recovering from addiction. Twitter: @thursley.
Hélène Mulholland has 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.
My thoughts: this was an incredibly fascinating insight into the recent history of modern British policing. From the sexism and homophobia she encountered, to the cases that have stayed with her, Jackie Malton’s voice rings through clearly. A determined, dedicated officer for many years, she rose through the ranks despite the many challenges of being a woman in an institutionally backwards organisation.
Her work in TV as an advisor was of less interest to me than her work as an addiction counsellor and volunteer in prisons. That was really interesting and she writes with respect and understanding of the men she works with.
She is also very mindful of the victims she writes about, listing their names and empathising with their relatives and friends, particularly in the case of the New Cross Fire, which has never been fully resolved.
Jackie had an illustrious career, working in the famous Flying Squad, as well as developing new ways of supporting victims of domestic violence when working in Hammersmith & Fulham. Her impact might not be judged for some time to come but I think she is probably seen as a role model by many young female police officers. Her life story is at turns inspiring and thrilling.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.