The Flight, By M R Hall
Fasten your seatbelts for a quality thriller
Our insatiable hunger for crime fiction has caused every backwater in the world of law and order to be ransacked by authors in search of characters on whom to hang a best-seller or television series.
If I make the process sound calculated, that is often how it comes over in the finished product, but not in Matthew Hall's first-rate books about unorthodox Bristol coroner Jenny Cooper. The Flight is Cooper's fourth outing and Hall's Gold Dagger-nominated books, quite simply, get better each time.
Part of it is the former barrister and TV producer's ability to structure and deliver a thriller that has you keep turning the pages. I read The Flight, as its predecessors, at one sitting. But Hall has also hit upon a genuinely fascinating aspect of the justice system – the independent role of the coroner since the 12th century to determine the cause of death of individuals within their jurisdiction. In The Flight, Cooper's territory touches the scene of a major air disaster, after one of the new generation of super-jumbos mysteriously ditches in the Bristol Channel with no survivors.
The most compelling element of Hall's books, however, is Cooper herself: difficult, damaged, self-destructive, struggling to recover from a divorce that has left her alienated from her teenage son, and prone to panic attacks whose causes are gradually investigated during her regular sessions on the psychiatrist's couch. All the qualities that make her a tenacious champion of the bereaved against a system that too often silences them, also make her an uncomfortable mother, partner, boss or friend. She is emotional rather than logical, intuitive and challenging when challenged. In other words she is real, recognisable and three- dimensional, rather than an amalgam of qualities chosen to make for a good plot.
And so, there is a beguiling psychological tension at the heart of his novels that is building Hall a dedicated following (plus talk of a TV series). In Flight, the fragile but forceful Cooper almost goes along with the cover-up orchestrated by an establishment that tries to persuade her that "national security" is at stake. But a grieving mother's insistent demand to know how her 10-year-old daughter died chimes with Cooper's own complicated past, and leads her into a labyrinth of international business dirty tricks and cyber-terrorism.
It is wonderful stuff, chillingly plausible, but probably best not read on a long-haul flight.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
After Sam Smith’s Mobo success, is the help of a pushy parent the surest route to stardom?
Pottermore: JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story featuring 'greying' 33-year-old wizard
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world's major conflicts