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.

Best new-to-me crime fiction authors: a meme: April to June 2012

This meme about the best new-to-you crime fiction authors (or all) you’ve read in the period of April to June 2012 is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.The books don’t necessarily need to be newly published.

Out of the 54 books I’ve read this year 17 are by new-to-me authors. I reported on the first 10 (2 of which were crime fiction) in April. Four of the 7 are crime fiction writers and they are:

M R Hall: I read two of his books – The Coroner, the first in the Jenny Cooper series and The Redeemed, the  third in the series.

In The Coroner, 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 however screwed up her own life is, Jenny is not going to give up on the uphill task she’s set herself. (Synopsis adapted from Amazon)

I liked both books by M R Hall, but I preferred The Redeemed. 

Synopsis from M R Hall’s website: Coroner Jenny Cooper doesn’t just have an accusation of murder hanging over her head’¦

The discovery of a dead man lying outside a Bristol church with a sign of the cross gouged into his flesh looks to her like another grisly, routine suicide. But the unexpected arrival of an enigmatic Jesuit priest reveals deeper levels of mystery.

Father Lucas Starr is protesting the innocence of a convicted prisoner who made a doubtful confession to the murder of Eva Donaldson, a former adult-movie actress turned world-renowned anti-pornography campaigner. Persuaded by him to look at Eva’s death afresh, Jenny uncovers a sinister series of connections between her killing and the body at the church.

As her investigation links to yet another tragic death, Jenny’s suspicions turn towards a powerful new global phenomenon: the politically ambitious and intoxicatingly charismatic Mission Church of God.

Answering to no one but the dead, Jenny’s 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.

 Arthur Conan Doyle:  I’m surprised that I’m including Conan Doyle in a new-to-me authors post, but it is the first time I’ve actually read one of his books. I wrote about The Sign of Four in June.

Ngaio Marsh: another well-known author whose books I’ve not read before now. A Man Lay Dead was her first crime fiction novel featuring Inspector Alleyn, in which guests at Sir Hubert Handesley’s weekend house-party play the ‘Murder Game’, in which a guest is secretly selected to commit a ‘murder’ in the dark and everyone assembles to solve the crime. This ends in a real murder for Alleyn to work out who-did-it. I wasn’t overly excited or puzzled by the mystery.

Dana Stabenow: I read her first in the Kate Shugak series, A Cold Day for Murder. Synopsis from Amazon:

Somewhere in the hinterlands of Alaska, among the millions of sprawling acres that comprise ‘The Park,’ a young National Park Ranger has gone missing. When the detective sent after him also vanishes, the Anchorage DA’s department must turn to their reluctant former investigator, Kate Shugak. Shugak knows The Park because she’s of The Park, an Aleut who left her home village of Niniltna to pursue education, a career, and the righting of wrongs. Kate’s search for the missing men will take her from self-imposed exile back to a life she’d left behind, and face-to-face with people and problems she’d hoped never to confront again.

The other books by new-to-me authors are (with links to my reviews):

May’s Reading & Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

I read a lot in May – well I read and listened, because three of the books were audiobooks, which was quite a novelty for me. In total I ‘read’ 11 books and 9 of them were crime fiction. So far I’ve only reviewed 4 of them.

This is what I read –  the links are to my posts on the books and * indicates crime fiction:

  1. Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley* 4/5
  2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene 3/5
  3. Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie* 3.5/5
  4. The Redeemed by M R Hall* 4.5/5
  5. Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves* 4/5
  6. The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett * (library audiobook) 2/5
  7. Fatherland by Robert Harris* 5/5
  8. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 4/5
  9. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle* 3/5 (library audiobook)
  10. The Coroner by M R Hall* (library book) 4/5
  11. Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson* 3/5 (advanced reading copy)

I’m aiming to review the rest of the books, but for now here are notes on them.

Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley is set in Penzance in Cornwall. Matthew Glynn, a bookseller,is found bludgeoned and strangled, which sets Chief Superintendent Wycliffe a difficult mystery to solve. The answer lies in the past and in the Glynn family’s background. I enjoyed this book, which I read quickly, eager to know the outcome, but the ending was a let down.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. I always like Agatha Christie’s books and although I don’t think this is one her better books, it was a satisfying read. It’s a closed room type mystery. Who killed Louise, the wife of the celebrated archaeologist leading the Hassanieh dig? Only the people at the dig could have done it, but which one – they’re all under suspicion? Poirot doesn’t appear until quite late on in the book, but, of course, works it all out.

The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett (audiobook). This is the fifth of the Fethering Mysteries, in which Jude and her friend Carole investigate the death of one of the guests at the local country house hotel, following the dinner attended by the all-male members of the Pillars of Sussex the night before. It looks like suicide but Jude thinks it can’t be. I got rather tired listening to this book as Jude and Carole endlessly (or so it seemed) went over and over the events and questioned the suspects.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to Wolf Hall. This book certainly deserves a post of its own. Here I’ll just comment that this chronicles the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and Cromwell’s part in satisfying Henry’s wishes. I don’t think it’s quite as captivating as Wolf Hall, but it does show just how devious Cromwell could be.

My Crime Fiction Book of the Month is a close call between  Fatherland by Robert Harris  and The Redeemed by MR Hall, both of which had me engrossed.

Fatherland is a fast paced thriller, set in a fictional Germany in 1964, a Germany that had been victorious in the Second World War. It begins with the discovery of the body of one of the former leading members of the Nazi party, who had been instrumental in devising ‘the final solution’. It’s a complex book and leads police detective Xavier March into a very dangerous situation as he discovers the truth.

The Redeemed by MR Hall is by contrast not about a police investigation but is the third book in which Jenny Cooper, a coroner investigates the death of a man discovered in a church yard, the sign of the cross carved into his abdomen. At first it looks like a horrific suicide, but as Jenny delves deeper during her inquest she finds links to yet more deaths. This is the third book in M R Hall’s Jenny Cooper series and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately borrowed the first book, The Coroner, from the library. They do stand well on their own but I think it helps to read them in sequence. In The Coroner Jenny begins her career, having been a solicitor for fifteen years. She obviously has devastating events in her personal life that she has to deal with.

May’s reading has been exclusively fiction, so I’m looking forward to reading some nonfiction in June. I’m feeling like reading a biography or two.

See the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise for other bloggers’ choices of book of the month for May ‘“ and add your favourite May read to the collection.