Reviews by L. J. Roberts

M. R. HALL – The Coroner. Pan Macmillan, UK, hardcover/softcover, 2009.

Genre:   Licensed investigator. Series character:   Jenny Cooper, 1st in series. Setting:   England/Wales.

First Sentence:   The first dead body Jenny ever saw was her grandfather’s.

M. R. HALL Jenny Cooper

   Jenny Cooper spent 15 years practicing child-care law, but a serialized cheating, emotionally abusive husband and subsequent divorce, plus a missing year from her own childhood, has resulted in an emotional breakdown and severe panic attacks.

   She’s beginning to put her life back together and has been appointed local coroner in the Severn Vale District Corner, inheriting the office, and its rather resentful clerk, from recently deceased Harry Marshall.

   Two of the cases she also inherits are those of a young boy and a teen prostitute, both dead of apparent suicide, both of who spent time in a youth penal facility, and who knew each other when younger. Jenny begins to suspect Harry of negligence, at best, and possibly a cover-up for murder.

   I have often read about coroners, but never really understood their role, responsibilities and the extent of their authority. How nice to finally find an author who not only focuses on that role, as pertains to the UK, but makes it really interesting. I was particularly struck by the protagonist’s observation that “After just four days as coroner she was already the earthly representative of fifty traumatically departed souls.”

   The scenes at the inquest were as well done as any trial scene I’ve read. I am so impressed with Hall’s writing. There are three major threads to this story: Jenny’s emotional issues, her dealing with a possible new relationship, and the case on which she is working. Hall weaves these three threads evenly and perfectly, and in such a way that you see the character gain strength and develop as the story progresses.

M. R. HALL Jenny Cooper

   I like seeing a male author write realistic female characters, and Jenny is an interesting character. In spite of her issues, you know there is strength there and she will survive. It is also nice to see a male author write a male character who isn’t the knight on a white charger. Jenny’s neighbor, Steve, may be her new relationship, but he has growing of his own to do.

   All the characters were real, whether likable or not, and for some, you felt their angst. I was particularly struck by the father of a dead girl, “We blame the teachers, the police, the politicians, every last God-dammed one of those self-righteous bastards who spend their lives telling other people what’s best for them but can’t tell right from wrong.” How heart-felt and timely a statement is that?

   There were some minor weaknesses. As can happen, because Hall lives in the area in which the book is set, the sense of place was not as strong as I, a “foreign” reader, would have liked. It was necessary for me to resort to the internet in order to find out where the book is set and what the area looks like.

   There were also a couple of rather large coincidences and predictable threads, but it was still a very good, engrossing read that kept me up until 2 a.m. to finish the book. Hall’s next book, The Disappeared is already on my shelf, to be joined by his third book, The Rapture due out Fall 2010.

Rating: Very Good.