Book Beginnings: The Chosen Dead

What to read next is nearly always a difficult question, the problem being that I have so many books I’ve bought/borrowed that I really want to read right now and much as I would like to I can’t read them all at once.

So, this morning here I am nearly ready to start a new book and wondering which one to go for. It could be The Chosen Dead by M R Hall, his fifth novel in the Coroner Jenny Cooper series.

It begins:

Scottsdale Arizona, 12 March 1982

The last thing Roy Emmett Hudson was expecting on the eve of his forty-first birthday was a bullet in the head, but life and death are only a single breath apart, and as a biologist, he appreciated that more than most. Even as he strolled across the company lot to the Mercedes Coupé he had driven all winter without once raising the roof, his killers’ thoughts were already moving on to where they might dump his body so that it might never be found.

I’ve read three of the earlier books in the series, and liked them, so I’m hoping this one will be good. It’s an intriguing beginning because it doesn’t seem likely that Coroner Jenny Cooper could be involved in investigating this death as she is a Bristol coroner …

Synopsis from the back cover:

When Bristol Coroner Jenny Cooper investigates the fatal plunge of a man from a motorway bridge, she little suspects that it has any connection with the sudden death of a friend’s thirteen year old daughter from a deadly strain of meningitis. But as Jenny pieces together the dead man’s last days, she’s drawn into a mystery whose dark ripples stretch across continents and back through decades. In an investigation which will take her into the sinister realms of unbridled human ambition and corrupt scientific endeavour, Jenny is soon forced to risk the love and lives of those closest to her, as a deadly race to uncover the truth begins . . .

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: M is for …

… M R Hall

Biography summarised from M R Hall’s website:

Matthew Hall was born in London in 1967, he was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Worcester College, Oxford,where he graduated in law. He lives and works in the Wye valley in South Wales. He spends much of his spare time looking after his sixteen acres of woodland and working for the conservation of the countryside.

After working as a barrister, mostly in the field of criminal law he then went on to become a screen writer and producer, including writing episodes of such dramas as  Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw and Dalziel and Pascoe. His first season of writing the Channel 5 series, Wing And A Prayer earned him a BAFTA nomination in the best series category.


I’ve read his debut novel, The Coroner, which was published in 2009 and was nominated for the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger in the best novel category. In this book Jenny Cooper, a newly appointed Coroner, divorced, and recovering from a nervous breakdown gets involved in investigating 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 Jenny just won’t give in until she gets to the truth.

The second novel in the Jenny Cooper series, The Disappeared, was published in the USA by Simon and Schuster on December 1st 2009 and in the UK by Pan Macmillan in January 2010. I’ve yet to read this book in which Jenny investigates the disappearance of a British student, Nazim Jamal. She is beginning to settle into her role as Coroner for the Severn Valley. But as the inquest gets under way, a code of silence is imposed on the inquest and events begin to spiral out of all control, pushing Jenny to breaking point.

I thoroughly enjoyed the third novel in the same series, The Redeemed, which was published in April 2011 in the UK and May 2011 in the USA. With an accusation of murder hanging over Jenny’s head her lone quest for justice takes her to the heart of the fight between good and evil, sex and the supernatural, and on a dark inner journey to confront ghosts that have haunted her for a lifetime.

The fourth in the series, The Flight was published in the UK on 2 February 2012. I’ve recently read this one and have to say that I don’t think it’s as good as the other two I’ve read.

Flight 189 has plunged into the Severn Estuary, an area outside Jenny Cooper’s jurisdiction, but she is handling the cases of a sailor, washed up on her side of the river and that of a 10 year old girl, who was a passenger on the flight. Jenny is never one to back away from handling sensitive issues and when the authorities want her cases to be dealt with by Sir James Kendall, a recently retired High Court judge,the coroner for the inquest into the crash, she resists and insists she carries out her own investigations. Each time they try to halt her inquest she finds ways of carrying on.

My problem with this book wasn’t Jenny’s role.  I like the way Jenny perseveres, her sympathies for the bereaved parents, her own fragile psychological make-up and how she deals with her problems with her father. These elements are in the other books too, but in The Flight I thought they were overwhelmed by all the technical details of the aircraft and how it came to crash. I prefer the smaller scale inquests, rather than this ‘disaster film’ genre – but, I think, it would make a good disaster film.

If you’re nervous about flying, (which I’m not, although I did feel glad I’m not booked on a flight soon as I was reading it) it is definitely a scary book, even though M R Hall in his Author’s Note at the end of the book says this about the safety of flying:

Next time you fly – or perhaps you are in a plane right now? – remember that a short drive through town remains statistically far more dangerous than your flight by a factor of many thousands to one. The most perilous parts of your journey are the ones to and from the airport. I am reliably informed that you are precisely eighty-seven times more likely to choke on the ice cube in your gin and tonic than to perish in a crash. So sit back and enjoy the movie – the numbers say it’ll never happen to you.

Mmm – do I really find that comforting?

A Crime Fiction Alphabet post for the letter M. For more posts see Kerrie’s blog Mysteries in Paradise.