Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: THE CORONER - M. R. Hall


Publisher: Pan Macmillan (Aust)
This edition published: March, 2009
ISBN: 9780230709843
422 pages

Jenny Cooper is recovering from a bitter divorce. Her husband has custody of their teenage son and Jenny suffered a breakdown. For fifteen years she worked as a lawyer in family court; a job that was emotionally and physically draining. When she is offered the position of coroner for the Severn Vale, she jumps at the chance. A job where she can remain detached and not become emotionally involved is just what she needs.

On her first day, Jenny discovers that her predecessor, who died suddenly of a heart attack, seems to have been less than diligent in two cases. There is a teenage girl dead of an apparent overdose and a fourteen-year-old boy who appears to have hanged himself in a juvenile detention centre. No one seems to have bothered to dig deeper. The pathologist’s report is so brief as to be almost negligent. The boy’s mother insists her warnings to the authorities about her son’s state of mind were all ignored. When Jenny decides to re-open the inquest she is met with hostility and aggression from many quarters. Are they just trying to cover-up that they didn’t do a thorough job or are there more sinister motives?

How do you find books to read? For many, it’s the tried and true. Authors you’ve enjoyed in the past. For those of us active in online reading groups, new authors are frequently discovered by word of mouth. It isn’t very often that a new author comes my way about whom I know nothing at all. Usually if they are good, there is a buzz about them. People start talking about the book they’ve just read and others pick up on it. I hadn’t heard a word about M.R. Hall’s, THE CORONER so I had no real expectations that this was anything other than just another run-of-the-mill crime novel. You know the type of thing. You read it and a couple of weeks later you’ve forgotten most of the plot. I am happy to admit that this time my expectations were entirely wrong.

THE CORONER is an impressive debut novel. Hall’s portrayal of Jenny; a middle-aged woman struggling with life and career is engaging. She is a very flawed individual who makes mistakes but you can’t help but be on her side. The book is long: 420 pages, but there is enough substance and pace in the plot to sustain that length. There is also some social commentary. Some of the comments about the privatisation of detention centres leave the reader in little doubt about the author’s feelings on the subject.

If, like me, you haven’t heard of M.R. Hall before, don’t let that put you off. Do try it. I read THE CORONER in just two afternoons. I couldn’t put it down. I just had to know what was going to happen next. I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

MR Hall is a screenwriter and producer and former criminal barrister, a profession he left due to a constitutional inability to prosecute. The Coroner is his first novel. Educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Worcester College, Oxford, he lives in the Wye Valley in Monmouthshire with his wife, journalist Patricia Carswell, and two sons.

4 comments:

Dorte H said...

Welcome in the club! I also loved meeting this new author, most of all for the characters. I knew more about what to expect, though, as I read Maxine´s review beforehand.

maxine said...

I thought this was a fab book. I read a review at It's A Crime (CrimeFictionReader's blog) and subsequently got hold of a copy via the ever-kind Karen and reviewed it for Euro Crime. I agree with you, that so many "new to me" authors are run of the mill, but this one was special. I thoroughly enjoyed it and really want those hints about Jenny's past cleared up! (As well as finding out what happens to her next.)

Sunnie Gill said...

You were one up on me, Dorte. But isn't it wonderful when you discover an author this way.

Sunnie Gill said...

Maxine, I did come across a review by a pharmacist who had issues with the number of temazepams Jenny was taking. He said what she swallowed would have "a horse snoring - in perpetuity" and recommended he ask his local chemist next time. Apart from that glaring error though, he enjoyed the book. http://www.marymartin.com.au/cridec.html