Book review: The Flight by M. R. Hall

The Flight
by M. R. Hall
Jenny Cooper (Coroner) #4
Mantle, 2012

The mystery in this book concerns the crash of an airliner into the River Severn that marks the boundary between England and Wales. All on board are killed. Jenny Cooper, coroner for the district, is not in charge of the inquest as the crash occurred just outside her jurisdiction. However, she is concerned about two bodies that have been washed up on “her” side of the river at the same time, possibly crash victims, so begins to run an investigation into those deaths. At the same time, she has many routine matters to cover – the one we are told about is that of a photographer who died in a car crash at about the same time that the plane went down. The seasoned crime-novel reader will guess that this event might turn out to be related to the main inquiry.

As usual, Jenny runs into trouble with everyone. A huge operation to identify the crash victims is quickly set up by the police and the armed forces, with a blackout on all information. Jenny is suspicious of a cover-up, so pursues her own investigation with vigour, even after one of her two cases is removed from her and given to the official team. The relationship between Jenny and her assistant Alison is, if possible, even more adversarial and abrasive here than in previous books, but even so, Alison reluctantly obeys Jenny’s orders to convene an inquest on the remaining victim, in which Jenny plans to compel the owner of the airline to give evidence publicly. Soon, even higher echelons try to shut Jenny down – but each time they do so, she manages to find some new piece of evidence or a new witness that gives her room to push back, in her attempt to determine the cause of the crash and hence to help the relative of a victim to achieve closure. In the process, she certainly gives a whole new meaning to the word “unorthodox”, as she encourages various organisations’ employees, or in one case an improbably helpful Welsh policeman who hates the English, to go more than the extra mile to help her.

In this book, Jenny’s back-story is a minor component after the revelations in The Redeemed (#3 in the series), although here she does meet someone who attracts her during the course of her quest. Alison, too, comes to a crossroads in her life.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, the series has gone in a direction that does not interest me as much as the issues covered at first: a small-scale inquest with its own tension and drama, and a psychological portrait of Jenny as a woman in authority yet with many inner insecurities. The Flight is squarely a thriller, and will be enjoyed by those who are fascinated by aeroplanes and how they work – the reader is somewhat overwhelmed with technical information – and for those who like international conspiracy theories. It certainly isn’t a book for those nervous of flying. For my part, I would prefer the series to veer away from the big picture and to focus more on Jenny’s life as a district coroner, the typical cases she takes on, and the personal issues she has to confront. “Small is beautiful.”

I borrowed this book from the library.

My reviews of the previous books in this series: The Coroner (#1), The Disappeared (#2) and The Redeemed (#3).

Read other reviews of The Flight at: Euro Crime (Sarah Hilary), The Independent and The Express (by Barry Forshaw).

About the book at the publisher’s website.