Author – M.R. Hall
Published – Feb 2012
Genre – Thriller
I first came across M R Hall at the Reading Festival of Crime Writing last year. I was intrigued that someone who had been a barrister, then a screenwriter was now writing a series of novels featuring a coroner as the main character. This sounded like an author I should try and I was lucky to receive a review copy of his latest novel from Mantle.
In “The Flight” an Airbus A380 flight from London Heathrow to New York plunges into the Severn Estuary, on the border of Coroner Jenny Cooper’s jurisdiction. Whilst the majority of the wreckage and bodies become the responsibility of a neighbouring area, two are discovered on Cooper’s “patch” – a young girl wearing a life jacket and a fisherman. The Ministry of Justice appoints a retired High Court Judge to act as coroner for the crash victims, but Cooper is determined to retain control of the fisherman’s death.
As Cooper tries to unravel the circumstances which led to the fisherman’s death (and use that as a means to help the family of the dead girl) she is aided by a pilot of a private charter plane who had a friend on the Flight 189. This seems to be a relationship which has the potential to become something more personal than professional.
The story is fascinating, if a little frightening for anyone who ever takes a flight! There’s quite a lot of technical information about the way the airlines work, approaches to safety issues and the computerised systems of these huge airliners. In some respects this made me think of Michael Crichton novels. I found the details of the huge operation put into place following the crash intriguing, and wonder how much of this is actually a reflection of what really would happen in such circumstances.
There are plenty of references to some of Cooper’s history from the previous books. She is obviously troubled by an incident from her childhood, which seems to be on its way to a resolution in this novel. I certainly had no problem starting the series at book 4. She seems to be something of a maverick, and has a history of going against authority when she believes that justice isn’t being done. This case proves to be no different as she treads a fine line between doing her job and insubordination.
The only part of the story which didn’t ring true for me was the relationship between Cooper and her assistant, Alison Trent, which becomes increasingly strained during the course of the book. I had assumed that Trent was a stroppy young woman, so was surprised to realise late on that her character was actually older than Cooper.
I don’t know much about the role of the Coroner in the British justice system, although I do know that there have been extreme cases where they have made the news for their stance, so I would be interested to know how realistic Hall’s portrayal is.
This was a fascinating read, perhaps a little slow in places and there was a lot of technical detail to take in, especially in the final few pages of the book. Despite that my attention never wavered and I was gripped the whole way through. Cooper is a strong and likeable character who it was easy to root for. I will certainly be searching out some of the previous titles.
Score – 4/5