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.
©2009 M. R. Hall; (P)2009 BBC Audiobooks America
"I'm a Coroner. I spend my life laying things to rest . . ."
Somehow I came across "Coroner" in hardcover when it was first published. I loved it so much I bought two subsequent volumes in hardcover, too, as soon as they came out. I don't think I've ever done that before. All three are magnificent. I was delighted to see them now in Audible and already bought all three again, and am looking forward to the two more that M. R. Hall has now written. These books are the best of the best, and the narration by Sian Thomas is absolutely perfect. She's exactly what I'd expect Coroner Jenny Cooper to sound like. (Not that it matters, but I was astonished to see that "M. R. Hall" is actually Matthew Hall, a young man who created a pitch-perfect female as his protagonist. I didn't realize that until I'd read all three books and looked up the author out of curiosity. Wow! Well done!)
There's much to love about these books: the fascinating details about the unusual job of coroner -- a bit different in England than in the States, but no less interesting. The locale, especially the house Jenny just bought, a remote, greatly-in-need-of-care farmhouse I expect most of us would give our eye teeth to live in. And Jenny herself. I can't help but compare her to Lynda LaPlante's memorable 'Lorraine Paige', that brilliant but much-abused alcoholic police detective who struggles against her many personal demons in LaPlante's "Cold" series, "Cold Heart", etc. For Jenny, it's not alcohol so much as Valium that's her demon. Coming off a nasty, long-term marriage to an arrogant surgeon, followed by a divorce in which their teenage son is sent to live with her husband -- then learning that she was appointed as Coroner more or less as a 'charity' case -- Jenny has grown dependent on the drug to maintain, with the struggle to hide her dependence almost as much of a problem as is the stress of everything else. All of this makes the unquestionably brilliant Jenny Cooper an immensely sympathetic protagonist, especially given her determination to see justice done for the dead "clients" she's responsible for.
It's really a misnomer to call these "crime" novels, because although the setting indeed involves crimes and courts, its the characters who hold the real attraction, and Jenny Cooper is a winner in every respect. Just one warning: If you buy 'Coroner', be sure you have enough credits to buy the rest of the series, too. You won't want to wait to buy them.
The Coroner is different from most crime novels because the "detective" is a lawyer who has taken the job of coroner in a small town in Wales. Thus her investigation methods are different from your typical sleuth, or even from a medical examiner/detective figure like Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. I definitely learned a lot about coroner law, which is far more interesting than I expected!
The mystery itself is a bit bland. The courtroom scenes are far more gripping than the investigation, but overall the central plot is not exciting. Two juvenile offenders end up dead, one in custody and one who has just been released, and Jenny is suspicious of what happened at the facility where they both were detained. From there, it doesn't go anywhere you wouldn't expect it to, and it takes a bit too long to arrive at the conclusion. The main draw here is in the unique main character, and her unique career.
Jenny is fascinating, in part because she isn't a lovable protagonist. The fact that she suffers from panic attacks is one main focus of the novel, which I found compelling, but if you don't want to hear the explicit details of what it's like to have an anxiety disorder, this is not your next read. The idea of the damaged detective is nothing new, but Jenny Cooper's particular story--her mental illness, her anger about her recent divorce and job change, and her traumatic history--make her unusual for this genre. Sian Thomas's narration fits the character but is nothing spectacular.
Overall, I would recommend this as a good, but not great, mystery that is worth reading if you are looking for something a little different than the typical detective fare.
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