The Coroner by M. R. Hall

January is not over yet, but so far it has been a superb reading month for me. Buzz about Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire has been filling the blogosphere, and positive reviews of the book have appeared in most major newspapers. It's certainly an exciting, compelling and thrilling read, and the heroine quite a remarkable mix of abused child, fairy-tale character, computer geek, sexy woman and tough avenger. Followed by Neil Cross's Burial, three wonderful books by Andrea Camilleri (Rounding the Mark, The Patience of the Spider, and The Paper Moon), and Tom Bale's Skin and Bones, you might think that these riches were enough. But no, I read the most superb book – a debut novel and one that I think I've enjoyed more than many a book I've read in a long time.

The book is The Coroner by M. R. Hall; my review appeared yesterday at Euro Crime. I loved this book. We've discussed previously how male authors do not often write from the point of view of a female protagonist: here is one, and extremely successful it is, too. For my part, she is more easy to identify with than Lisbeth Salander, as Jenny Cooper lives in the UK, has a demanding job, commutes, is having a nervous breakdown and has to cope with being a parent on top of everything else. She lacks Lisbeth's more superhuman skills, let's say. The Coroner is also a great detective story with a big conscience, laced with humour, plenty of informative and seemingly accurate details, a sense of place (the south Wales borderlands) and a cracking pace. It's a fantastic book, and one that I highly recommend you read as soon as you can get your hands on a copy. At the moment, the hardback is priced at £4.50 on Amazon (UK site). A taster from my review:

The main character of THE CORONER is not a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she is a woman in the full process of breaking apart. This is one of the many factors that makes this book such a compelling, fascinating, almost voyeuristic read, as we wait with bated breath to see if Jenny Cooper will crash before she solves the crime. As this assured novel opens, Jenny takes up her job as Coroner in Severn Vale District, on the English side of the Wales-Bristol border. She's recently divorced from David, a typical selfish, ambitious surgeon, who has custody of their teenage son Ross. Jenny is addicted to temazepam. She's been in therapy and although she shrugs off her treatment at the start of the novel, she's aware of some unacknowledged, unremembered trauma in her childhood which is central to her fragile state of mind. Read on here

Laura Wilson's Guardian review of The Coroner.

Book Bag review of The Coroner.

Daily Express review.

Publisher's website and review.