Review: The Disappeared by M R Hall

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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

As always, don’t take my word for it. The Disappeared has been more favourably reviewed at Euro Crime

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 2.5/5
Narrator Sian Thomas
Publisher BBC WW [2010]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 12 hours 25 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Source I bought it

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4 Responses to Review: The Disappeared by M R Hall

  1. kathy durkin says:

    Good review. Glad to know this about this book. I won’t order it. I read reviews of the first book and it sounded like a promising series. Sounds like a library read, but my library doesn’t carry this series, so I’m not rushing to read it, won’t buy it. Will wait to see how the later books turn out.
    I have hooked another friend on Teresa Solana who loved “Not a Perfect Crime.”

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  2. Jose Ignacio says:

    Thanks for your fine review Bernadette. I’ll try to keep an eye on Hall’s upcoming books. Sometimes the decision is not what do we want to read next, but another decision implicit in this one, which books we are not going to read?

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  3. Bernadette – Thanks for this thoughtful and honest review. I agree with you about the predictability factor. I like to wonder what’s coming next; I don’t like being able to figure out from the beginning how a plot will go. And it’s interesting you’d mention that believability is more important than likeability in a character. I’m that way, too; I’d rather a character be unsympathetic but real than a nice person but not authentic.

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  4. Dorte H says:

    I have heard (probably from Maxine) that this one was not nearly as good as the first one. Still, I am also willing to try it, and probably also the third, as I was so impressed by The Coroner.

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