The Disappeared is the second novel to feature Jenny Cooper, a somewhat troubled Coroner in Bristol, and follows on from last year’s The Coroner. Mrs Jamal is the mother of one of two young Muslim man who disappeared eight years previously and she approaches Jenny Cooper to beg her to conduct an inquest now that her son has been legally presumed dead. The official story is that the two men left the country for Afghanistan after becoming radicalised but Mrs Jamal does not believe this and wants Jenny to uncover the truth. In agreeing to look into the matter Jenny is confronted by roadblocks put in place by several arms of bureaucracy including the police who investigated originally and the always shadowy secret service.
The things that I liked most about the first book such as the genuine courtroom tension and the development of Jenny Cooper as a complex but engaging character were, for me, largely absent from The Disappeared. The story was serviceable enough but never fully engaged the ‘must know what will happen next’ part of my brain because it seemed fairly obvious from the outset what the overall outcome would be. The set pieces that took place along the way, including those in the courtroom, were competently written but, for me, failed to surprise and felt too much like they’d been assembled from a few newspaper headlines rather than looking at any particular theme or idea in any depth. Issues like the treatment of Muslims after September 11 2001 and the reaction of western governments to the growth of extreme terrorism were given lip service which brought out nothing new or insightful and left me unfulfilled.
I could deal with Jenny Cooper being unlikable or unsympathetic but not incredible. At some points here I struggled to believe she’d be given a driver’s license let alone responsibility for an important legal proceeding. She made illogical and sometimes daft decisions that I suppose we all do but it somehow didn’t ring true. Her continuing unwillingness to deal with her medical problems sensibly, which in turn meant she couldn’t seem to deal sensibly with any of the significant people in her life – be it her son, her part-time lover or her closest colleague – left me cold. The rest of the characters weren’t given much to do other than feed Jenny’s paranoia, with the exception of Mrs Jamal who was quite brilliantly drawn as a mother desperate for answers but we didn’t see enough of for my liking.
The Disappeared isn’t terrible but I just didn’t find it very original or thought-provoking. I suspect if I had read it several years ago, when my crime fiction diet was more bland (Cornwell, Reichs, Patterson etc) I’d have thought it jolly good but having spiced up my reading over the past few years I think I want more than a mildly interesting but quickly forgotten story. I did enjoy the first book in this series though so I may be tempted to give book 3 or 4 a go (apparently both are due next year).
What about the audio book?
Sian Thomas is terrific. I’m normally wary of narrators who choose to do foreign accents (they can border on the offensive) but it was well done here and at times the best thing about the fairly dull courtroom scenes.
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As always, don’t take my word for it. The Disappeared has been more favourably reviewed at Euro Crime
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My rating 2.5/5
Narrator Sian Thomas
Publisher BBC WW 
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 12 hours 25 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Source I bought it