A coroner in small-town England struggles against the police, elements of the government and her own demons to find out what happened to two suspected radicals.
Jenny Cooper, the fraught protagonist of Hall’s debut (The Coroner, 2008, U.K. only), is once again trying to solve a case that powerful, interested parties would just as soon keep unsolved. This time, though, she’s quit drinking, and the only pills she takes are the ones her psychiatrist prescribes to keep her anxiety at bay. Mrs. Jamal, a distraught mother almost unhinged by grief, turns to Jenny as a last resort, desperate to learn what happened to her son Nazim and his friend Rafi, who disappeared seven years ago. The authorities seem sure the young men went abroad to join extremists in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but she’s sure they didn’t, despite their involvement with a radical Islamic group. Jenny’s decision to convene an inquest is met with a marked lack of cooperation by the police and MI5, who for unknown reasons would rather the whole thing go away. But whenever she is tempted to let things slide, she’s urged on by Alec MacAvoy, a disgraced and amoral but charming and charismatic former lawyer in pursuit of his own shrouded agenda. Jenny’s burgeoning feelings for Alec threaten to upset the delicate emotional balance she’s created as she struggles to get over a divorce, get along with her teenage son and get to the bottom of the ever-darkening mystery surrounding Nazim and Rafi’s disappearance. Stubborn but fragile, dedicated to her work but always unsure as to whether she has the mettle to seek out the truth when everyone around her seems dead set on keeping it hidden, Jenny is a complex, compelling heroine. Hall does a stellar job of eliciting our empathy for her struggles with her job, her emotions, her addictions and her anxieties.
Very smart, with a tight plot and richer-than-average characterizations.