When lawyer, Jenny Cooper, is appointed Severn Vale District Coroner, she’s hoping for a quiet life and space to recover from a traumatic divorce, but the office she inherits from the recently deceased Harry Marshall contains neglected files hiding dark secrets and a trail of buried evidence. Could the tragic death in custody of a young boy be linked to the apparent suicide of a teenage prostitute and the fate of Marshall himself? Jenny’s curiosity is aroused. Why was Marshall behaving so strangely before he died? What injustice was he planning to uncover? And what caused his abrupt change of heart? In the face of powerful and sinister forces determined to keep both the truth hidden and the troublesome coroner in check, Jenny embarks on a lonely and dangerous one-woman crusade for justice which threatens not only her career but also her sanity.
Many are the debuts in the crime fiction field that create a brief flurry of interest then sink without trace. It’s a fairly safe bet, however, that MR Hall’s The Coroner won’t suffer that fate—this is a fresh and original piece of work that is already gleaning a fair measure of praise. Hall has worked extensively in television on such successful series as Judge John Deed, Kavanagh QC and Dalziel and Pascoe, and the expertise gained there is parleyed into very impressive results here.
The beleaguered heroine, Jenny Cooper, is not in the best of shape. She has been recently divorced, and has suffered a nervous breakdown. But Jenny is hoping that her new job—Coroner for the Severn Vale—will get her life back on an even keel. Living on a desperate diet of anti-depressants and downers, she finds herself involved in looking into something worrying: the deaths of several teenagers at local detention centres. Has her predecessor neglected some crucial information in this area? As Jenny digs deeper, she encounters a solid wall of bureaucratic resistance. But however screwed up her own life is, Jenny is not going to give up on the uphill task she’s set herself.
We have, of course, encountered the troubled, damaged protagonist before, many times—both in male and female form. But such is M R Hall’s skill that even in this over-familiar territory, cliché is kept firmly at bay. Hall has experience of the world of the coroner, and that gives the book (the first in a series) a pithy verisimilitude. But so compelling is the narrative voice in The Coroner, that readers will be keen to enter the messy, conflicted world of Jenny Cooper again.—Barry Forshaw