MACMILLAN, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Disappeared, By M R Hall
Gripping tale of a mother's courage
There is a political edge to the former barrister and screenwriter Matthew Hall's thrillers.
His first, published last year after he had grown disillusioned with the formulaic take on crime demanded by TV commissioners, highlighted failings in both private prisons and the treatment of youngsters in custody. The Coroner won him a Gold Dagger nomination from the Crime Writers' Association; The Disappeared is just as accomplished and challenging.
Reprising the same central character, campaigning coroner Jenny Cooper, it pits her against the British and American security services when she answers a distraught mother's pleas for an inquest into the death of her son, missing for over seven years. Nazim Jamal, police have concluded, had become involved with radical Muslim groups and went to Afghanistan to fight. Mrs Jamal is convinced this version of events is false and relies on a caricature of young British Muslim men.
Cooper starts off trying to give some sort of comfort to a distraught mother, but soon realises that the official explanation makes no sense. Using the powers vested in her ancient office, she searches out a more plausible explanation. In an age of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay and evidence of official complicity in the use of torture, this is a compelling and timely tale.
It is Cooper, though, who is the beating heart of these books. Her prejudices and instinctive reactions link events with the political agenda. And her frailties – she is a fortysomething divorcée, prone to panic attacks whose cause lies buried in her half-glimpsed childhood trauma – engage you on an emotional level.
High-mindedness can be too heavy a burden for some thrillers to carry. Equally, literary ambitions – Hall has a particular knack for conjuring up landscapes – can get in the way of narrative thrust. But The Disappeared avoids both traps triumphantly. And there is a certain irony in the fact that the success of his first book is leading Hall back to TV: Jenny Cooper is being prepared for a small-screen debut.
Arts & Ents blogs
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakes in bed one night to discover that the yew tree outside his house has ...
It’s hard not to feel sorry for doe-eyed Andy. He spends months pining after Louise, has huge nostr...
Fragility of life looms large over an episode that closes with the scarring on Julie's stomach. Whil...
Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender's secret life as a Mossad and CIA agent revealed
Theatre review: Daniel Radcliffe gives an admirably honest performance in Michael Grandage's The Cripple of Inishmaan
Russell Brand takes his Messiah Complex to the Middle East
Art review: The BP Portrait Award 2013 reveals our endless fascination with self-scrutiny and the human face
Vice pulls 'breathtakingly tasteless' fashion shoot glorifying the suicides of famous female authors from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf
- 1 Diary of Second World War German teenager reveals young lives untroubled by Nazi Holocaust in wartime Berlin
- 2 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 3 Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender's secret life as a Mossad and CIA agent revealed
- 4 Viral video straps colt .45 handgun to a home-use drone
- 5 Vice pulls 'breathtakingly tasteless' fashion shoot glorifying the suicides of famous female authors from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf