First Sentence: The first dead body Jenny ever saw was her grandfather's.
Jenny Cooper spent 15 years practicing child-care law, but a serialized cheating, emotionally abusive husband and subsequent divorce, a missing year from her childhood, 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 it's 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.
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 a couple 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.
on 27 June 2010
This review is from: The Coroner (Paperback)
I did wonder at the start whether this was a thriller or a text book on the role and duties of a coroner, but luckily that didn't last, and I was soon drawn into the well written story. So many books in this genre are set in the States it was refreshing to find one that was set in familiar places and actually applied to us in the UK.
I was intrigued by the subplot which kept me guessing right to the end of the book, and probably well into The Disappeared the next book in the series. Our heroine is full of temazipan and doubts (a far cry from Scarpetta) but somehow muddles through.
This book was interesting and informative, and I can't help thinking that if nothing else, it is useful to have a better insight into the work a coroner does. I was a bit surprised to read that according to ancient charter an inquest is never held in a pub, as towards the end of the 19th century the inquest on someone in my family history was held in the local hostelry.
After finishing the book I was surprised to find I actually cared what happened to the characters next which is quite unusual for me.
According to the dust jacket, this is M.R. Hall's first novel and it's a good one. Rather intriguingly choosing as a male author to focus on a main female character, he pulls it off well. Jenny Cooper, 42, just short of beautiful, has had some kind of a nervous breakdown following the acrimonious collapse of her marriage. Choosing to leave her career as a child lawyer, she takes a job as a coroner in the Severn valley and moves into a rural cottage on the borders of Wales and England.
But the previous coroner died of a heart attack in bed, and has left a couple of messy cases: the suicide in custody of a 15 year old boy, and the apparent death of a 15 year old girl through a heroin overdose. Dogged by an unco-operative assistant, NHS pathologists, local authority bureaucrats and an assortment of social workers, Jenny fights to find out what really happened to these kids and why everyone is so keen to have these cases closed.
I'm not someone who reads every crime book out there, but I do enjoy them occasionally and found this a refreshing change from the genre ennui I so often encounter. There is a freshness to the story, the characters and the writing, and Hall does a fine job of holding the balance between the case and Jenny's troubled personal life. There were times where I felt that he perhaps went too far in making her such an emotional cripple - pill-popping every half an hour, drinking her way through two bottles of wine an evening, barely eating with a vague hint of anorexia at the start where she admits to making herself throw up because she doesn't want to be fat - that it didn't quite make sense that she also manages to not just hold down a responsible job, but also deliver some extremely hard-hitting court-room speeches.
However this is a small flaw and not one which in any way spoils the enjoyment of the book. Intelligent, unobtrusively written, the story twists and turns, revealing secrets and hidden motivations as it goes. A far cry from the gore-fest that so many crime novels have become, this instead relies on plot to keep the reader gripped, and though there is sex, it's glossed over rather than indulged. And the acid test - would I read another Hall novel? Yes, definitely - though personally I think I'd prefer that he move on rather than turn the coroner into the start of a series. Recommended.
The tag line on the front of this book is 'I'm a Coroner. I spend my life laying things to rest'. We are introduced to the new Coroner of Severn Vale. Her name is Jenny Cooper, newly divorced and recovering from a breakdown, her teenage son lives with his father and new girlfriend and it is made clear from the very start of the book that Jenny has some deep childhood trauma in her life that has affected her personality and made her doubt herself and her abilities.
OK so we have the usual maverick type person, knocking back tranquilizers and wine as if they are going out of fashion, full of angst and generally falling apart and I felt a weariness of spirit come upon me and thought Do I really really want to read this? Do I really want to end up feeling as if I too would like to put my head in the gas oven? (As I am all electric decided there was no danger so on I went). I persevered and glad I did as I gradually became drawn into the story. Jenny's curiosity is aroused by the previous coroner's behaviour prior to his death and the fact he was trying to get to the bottom of the death of a teenager who had committed suicide in a young offender's institution. Then there was the drug related death of a young teenage girl, another suicide, seems a clear open and shut case, but as with all good crime stories, we begin to doubt that all is as it seems and Jenny decides to investigate further.
Once again, the usual stock characters pop up, the local businessman and Member of the Council, obnoxious and pompous who does not want Jennie to get involved, he is clearly on the make and has been taking backhanders from the owners of the offender's facility who want to build a bigger and better commercially run building elsewhere; the policeman, ambitious and ruthless who has skimmed over the investigation into the teenage girl's drug induced death; a slimy lawyer and an investigative journalist seeking a good story.
As she digs deeper into the mystery and cover up nasty things begin to happen to Jenny and her friends and her new lover, but the reader knows that ultimately she will find the guilty party. She does but it is not quite such a clear cut ending as normal and we are left with characters who are obviously going to reappear in the next story of what we are told is 'a fantastic new series heroine who takes on the establishment in a search of truth and justice whilst dealing with a very broken personal life'.
I always feel if you are going to use a cliche or two, then you may as well go the whole hog and The Coroner certainly does not hold back in this regard. And yet, and yet - I found myself becoming more and more engrossed with this story, I began to feel great sympathy for Jennie and though there were times when I felt like screaming DON'T DO THAT as I could see disaster just around the corner, ultimately this turned into a real page turner and one that I thoroughly enjoyed, despite my initial doubts. The final scene in the court room was very exciting and extremely filmic and I did my usual trick of casting actors in the various roles - already have an idea for Jennie - and I find that I can recommend this book to you as a good start to the series and I am looking forward to the next one.
I had assumed, that like JK Rowling, M R Hall was a woman as the book is certainly written from a woman's viewpoint and is sympathetic to Jenny's unhappiness and vulnerability. However, I have just checked and have discovered that he is "a screenwriter and producer and former criminal barrister, a profession he left due to a constitutional inability to prosecute".
So now we know.
on 25 December 2015
I enjoyed the book, a bit obvious and quite a few cliched characters. However M R Hall is supposed to be British, isn't he? And yet he referred to elevators instead of lifts, take out instead of takeaway, I could go on. I found these Americanisms unforgivable.
Well done, though getting me to read the book. He accused the BBC of pinching his ideas for their new television drama, The Coroner. I loved that series and thought I would read this book to find out. The only two things the book and series have in common are the title and the fact that the main character is female. The books are set in and around Bristol, with trips over the border to Wales, whereas in the series it is set in Devon where the main character is living with her teenage daughter and her gloriously outrageous mother.
I have bought more of the books because despite the infuriating Americanisms and some obvious characters I'm enjoying them.
The Coroner is MR Hall's debut novel and is overall a strong debut with some flaws in characterisation. The main character is Jenny Cooper who has left the legal profession as an expert in Child Law to become the newest coroner for Severn Valley- my immediate thought on reading this was the feeling that I'd seen this before with Kay Scarpetta, a character who was infamously referred to as a doctor, lawyer, and indian chief by her sidekick, and I have to say the idea seemed risible to me then and now that a professional would spend such a long and rigourous amount of time and dedication to one profession only to immediately switch to something equally rigourous and time consuming in another profession; it just doesn't make sense and seems hardly credible when expense is factored in for education fees, but how and ever obviously the modern trend states that characters can't be just smart and capable but must be uber smart and capable. One way in which the author avoids comparison with Scarpetta is by saddling his main character Jenny with a ton of neuroses; she has depression, an eating disorder, is a borderline alchoholic and has a messed up private life with an estranged teenage son and divorced husband. If anything I think Hall went a bit too far on this path of self hatred and destruction for the character; he gets points for not making her a Mary Sue but I did find myself wondering if someone who really hire such a neurotice mess for a very demanding and public position.
MR Hall's roots as a screenwriter provide some of his strengths and weaknesses in this novel; one plus is that the plot is fast paced, taut and crackles with a cinematic tension in some scenes, however perhaps this background in screen might also explain some of the lazy characterisation of the secondary characters who are barely sketched out cliches such as the sleazy lawyer. A big selling point for me was that the mystery was fresh and vivid and it did keep me turning pages to find out what was behind the rash of teenage suicides. I would recommend MR Hall's work as one to keep an eye on although I think his main character here needs some rounding out to make her more human and less of a walking diagnosis manual for psychiatric neuroses.
on 14 October 2014
I tried my best to like this.
The author is obviously laying down the foundations for a long-running crime series, with a tv series in his sights. Nothing wrong with that, and although it's hardly an original premise - attractive, feisty female coroner solving crimes while fighting her personal demons and the male-dominated establishment, with some nice scenery and a bit of romance in the background - it could have been rescued by some fascinating characters and an edge-of-the-seat plot. Sadly, both these things were missing.
Sometimes an unsympathetic protagonist is more interesting - Jane Tennison wasn't always easy to like - and troubled coroner Jenny Cooper is certainly a cold, judgmental and self-obsessed heroine. But she's unbelievable, too: we're used to cops and lawyers with drink problems, but no-one could function normally on all that temazepam as well. If she's popping that many pills she wouldn't even get to the office, because that killer daily commute across the old Severn Bridge (I've done it) would be beyond her. And such an unprofessional coroner, so ridiculously biased and over-emotional in court, would be sacked immediately. Yet everyone comes to her rescue by the end - she's a real Mary Sue.
All the other characters are very two dimensional, not helped by the author's annoying habit of summing everyone up on sight in a very negative way, particularly the women - they're either frumpy, mumsy and 'carrying too much weight', or skinny and tarty. It's lazy, and at times unpleasant. I like to think that a female author would have shown that a bit of empathy or camaraderie between female characters is possible. And maybe bothered to give Jenny a less cheesy love interest, rather than cardboard cut-out Steve, the sexy gardener.
The plot is so-so, managing to be quite dull and unlikely at the same time: deaths at a youth detention centre and murky goings-on at the town hall aren't exactly new, and I couldn't quite believe the villainous corporation taking things quite that far to land a contract. And when the baddies are bad right from the start, there's no surprising reveal at the end.
It's readable, I've no doubt the series will continue and maybe he'll even get a tv series out of it, but it's not for me.
on 15 February 2010
this book really does seem to be a new genre, as lynda la plante (I think it is) says in one of the reviews. It's a while since I read this kind of a thriller, but after reading several great real life medical books lately I thought this was a perfect next step - and it was. The story really wrapped itself around me, I certainly wasn't annoyed by the central character as some reviewers were. I found her very believable, and I really enjoyed learning about how the various agencies, police, hospitals etc, all tie in together - and who has power over who. I had no idea that coroners could make such demands of others - and even lock people up! this will probably make a great tv show!
Jennny takes up a new post of Coroner in the Bristol area hoping for a relatively quiet life. This is just what she doesn't get when she finds the last two deaths dealt with by her predecessor were not exactly textbook events.
However much Jenny wants a quiet life she cannot let sleeping dogs lie and she starts to dig around to try and find out what happened to two dead teenagers who may have known each other. Unfortunately if you stir up deep waters all the mud is likely to come to the surface and this is exactly what happens when Jenny starts asking awkward questions.
This is very tense crime story and the fact that Jenny doesn't know who she can trust keeps the tension at a high level throughout the book. Her own fragile mental state magnifies the tension so that she is dealing with an external enemy as well as her own demons and her unpleasant ex-husband. It is well written and the relationship between coroner local authority and the Ministry of Justice seems realistic and well described.
I hope this is the first of a series and I shall certainly look forward to reading more by this author.
Brave of a male author to make a female character the main protagonist, but M R Hall succeeds well enough. Though Jenny Cooper, the coroner of the title, isn't easy to like. She is in psychiatric consultation for some childhood trauma, suffering guilt pangs after a custody struggle from a messy divorce, at the same time addicted to pills and too much alcohol (a bottle of red, followed by a bottle of white, beer from the can, brandy meant to be for cooking, etc). Difficult to see how she was appointed in the first place -though for the purpose of the plot it has to be part of a sinister design that would allow those with ulterior motives to control her.
All a bit far-fetched for you? It is, after all, supposed to be happening in and around Bristol. Still, if you can make the effort, the story does turn into a reasonably enticing page-turner. There's a bit of a let-down when it turns out that one key witness and one key thug only make their first appearances in the closing pages, but in fairness the plotting is scrupulous.
This isn't the worst book of its kind you will find this year, but not the best, either.