Below is a photograph of Anne Summer taken from her autobiography, ‘But I Couldn’t Do That!’ Anne was a private detective in the 1960s and she is one of the real-life inspirations behind my fictional detective, Sam Smith.
A convent-educated girl (an education she loathed) Anne married a London lawyer, only to separate in 1964. She was twenty-seven at the time and the pressures of the separation, along with her husband gaining custody of her son, led to serious physical and emotional health problems for Anne. She sought professional help and embarked upon the road to recovery.
In an attempt to aid Anne’s recovery, her solicitor asked her for a favour – a client wanted to know if his estranged wife was living with another man and, unable to find anyone else to carry out the investigation, the solicitor suggested that Anne should take the case. Desperate to find a meaning and a purpose in life, Anne decided to ‘have a go’.
Anne borrowed a car from the solicitor, studied a photograph of the estranged wife and with the help of the A – Z she found her address. Posing as a market researcher, a job she was familiar with from past experience, Anne was invited into the estranged wife’s home. Anne’s market research questions quickly revealed that the woman was washing and cooking for a man and so the fact of her living with a new partner was established.
Anne’s solicitor was impressed with her work and he introduced her to an ex-army officer who was running a detective agency in London. After working for him, and another well-established agency, Anne felt confident enough to start her own business, which became a great success. Soon she was employing agents of her own – including housewives, out-of-work actresses and journalists – and tackling a variety of cases, at home and on the Continent, usually centred on Cupid and his carelessly slung arrows.
As Anne states in her autobiography, she started out with her heart in her mouth, terrified of spiders, the dark, large dogs, heights and rapacious males. However, she challenged those fears and overcame them. Her cases were always different, ‘sometimes funny, sometimes sad’, but with one thing in common, ‘always the greatest difficulty was at the end – helping the client towards accepting the truth’.