Reviews by L. J. Roberts

M. R. HALL – The Disappeared. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, December 2009; trade paperback, April 2011. Macmillan, UK, hardcover/softcover, January, 2010.

Genre:   Licensed investigator. Leading character:  Jenny Cooper; 2nd in series. Setting:   England.

M. R. HALL Jenny Cooper

First Sentence:   During her six months as coroner for the Severn Vale District, Jenny Cooper had known only a handful of corpses remain unidentified for more than a day or two.

    Coroner Jenny Cooper is contacted by the mother of a British Muslim student for a formal inquest on her son. He and his friend both disappeared from their college dorm rooms seven years ago. The authorities claim they went to Afghanistan for terrorist training and failed to do a thorough investigation.

    Jenny also has a unidentified Jane Doe in the morgue whose body is stolen but traces of radioactivity left behind. How are the two cases linked and why are the authorities trying so hard to suppress the inquest?

    It is very difficult when you really like an author’s first book, yet find their second book so disappointing. What worked well in Hall’s first book, The Coroner (reviewed here ), seemed to come completely undone in this second one.

    The protagonist, Jenny Cooper, moved from being a woman finding strength in spite of her issues, to an insipid woman influenced and overwhelmed by everyone; her son, her clerk, her sometimes boyfriend, the police and some rather mysterious lawyer.

   Rather than being sympathetic, I found her annoying. At times, her emotional problems notwithstanding, her behavior was so unconscionable it wasn’t even excusable by being fictional. None of the characters were fully developed. Worse yet, I found I didn’t care about or feel connected to any of them.

   The only exception was the boy’s mother, Mrs. Jamal, and she was poorly used by the story. There was a sense of place but not strong enough to give me a visual sense of where the story occurred. The author does have a good ear for dialogue but that’s rather damning with faint praise.

   The plot seemed to plod on with little sense of tension or suspense. Even the courtroom scenes, so effectively done in her first book, lacked punch or luster. The whole thing felt as though it was a collection news-story ideas (Muslims, terrorists, conspiracies) looking for a cohesive book plot.

   The deal-breaker for me was the particularly annoying “you’ll have to read-the-next-book” ending. More than one author has lost me for doing that and Mr. Hall may well be the newest on that list.

   The book just doesn’t ever quite work. I did read it all the way through and I don’t mean to say it was absolutely awful; but it wasn’t good either. I shall have to give serious thought as to whether I continue reading this series.

Rating:   Poor.