Title – The Burning
Author – M.R. Hall
Published – 27 Feb 2014
Genre – Crime fiction
This is the sixth title in the crime series by M R Hall featuring coroner Jenny Cooper – which surprised me and means that I must have missed a book after The Flight! As it happens the books are easy to pick up mid-series, so if you haven’t read any of the others before don’t be put off.
The story starts with the deaths of three members of a family in a house in the small village of Blackstone Ley. Neighbours saw the house go up in flames but it soon becomes evident that a gun was involved and that something may have provoked a quiet father to murder his step-daughters. As the reader we know that there is more to the deaths, however, suggested by the brief opening chapter. This means that rather than follow Cooper’s train of thought as she tries to unravel the evidence, the reader is watching her pursuing dead-ends, waiting to see if and when she will discover the truth.
The use of the role of the coroner as the main protagonist is an unusual approach – the advantage is that it gives Cooper the ability to move outside some of the constraints of a normal police investigation, although I imagine most real coroner’s have quieter lives! There’s a good deal of time given over to Cooper and her private life – which manages to be pretty complicated. Now that she seems to have got her drug problem under control, her troubles are of the more romantic kind. I do like Cooper as the lead – she’s strong, (mostly) independent and occasionally fearless bordering on reckless.
There is an injection of humour from Cooper’s assistant, who seems to have suffered an injury to the part of her brain which ‘controls appropriate social responses’ – the good news is that I also found her to be less irritating than she was before.
This feels less like a thriller than The Flight and more conventional crime fiction, and as with The Flight the attention to detail is evident. An enjoyable, well-plotted read.