Lynda La Plante had already written a draft of the original Prime Suspect in 1990 when she heard through the London cop grapevine that a real-life model for Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison was near at hand. So she called DCI Jackie Malton, then of Hammersmith Station, one of London's rougher districts. And she got an earful of anecdotes about just what it takes to survive as a high-ranking woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated profession. ''This is a woman you can chat with,'' La Plante recalls. ''And then I saw her walk into that station, heading 45 men, and suddenly Gov'nor appeared.''
''(La Plante) got it bang on,'' says Malton, a 22-year veteran of London's Metropolitan Police Force who, like her fictional counterpart Tennison, is referred to as ''Governor'' by the staff who report to her. Which is better, she allows, than what her male colleagues called her when she and the lads were fellow detective sergeants on the beat. ''They used to call me 'the tart,''' she says matter-of-factly.
Like Prime Suspect II's Tennison, Malton has put in for a promotion. And, like Tennison, she has suffered setbacks: Stalled for the moment in her quest for a higher rank, these days she works a desk job in Kensington and Chelsea as a community liaison dealing with young offenders. And as La Plante writes Suspect III (the plot concerns child pornography), Malton plots her own future she'd love to get back on the pavement as a detective again and considers the differences between Jane Tennison and herself. ''I'm a bit softer,'' she says. ''I hope.''