Hall, M R - 'The Redeemed'
Jenny Cooper, coroner for the Severn district of south-west England, is independent and non-conformist. Her attitude has cost her her marriage (to an insufferably arrogant surgeon) and a well-paid career with a legal firm. Her teenage son now lives with his father; Jenny is not only seeing a psychotherapist somewhat under duress, but also is hitting the pills rather too much. Even so, there are positive aspects to her life - she loves her job, she lives in a beautiful cottage just over the river in Wales, and has an attentive lover in Steve, her neighbour.
This mix of personality and circumstance provides the driver for the plot of THE REDEEMED, the third novel in this superior series. (The previous titles are THE CORONER and THE DISAPPEARED.) One of the many files on the deceased awaiting Jenny's attention is that of Eva Donaldson, an ex-porn actress turned evangelist, who was stabbed to death some months ago. A perpetrator has been identified and indeed found guilty of the crime, but the man's priest comes to visit Jenny, convinced that the wrong person has been imprisoned. Jenny begins to look into the case, soon finding that the police as well as her boss and Eva's father don't want her to continue. Of course, this discouragement has the opposite effect to that intended, and Jenny soon finds some potentially unsettling information about the evangelical “church” that the dead woman had joined, involving some new legislation currently going through parliament. Not only this, but another of Jenny's cases, an apparent suicide, turns out to have links to the same church.
The distinguishing feature of this series is that of Jenny's perspective, through which the reader views events. Jenny is a woman in authority who is not afraid to use it, yet internally she lacks confidence and finds it hard to stand up to those (mainly males) who try to put her off or belittle her. She is instinctively determined to get to the bottom of anything if there is a hint of irregularity or if she perceives a desire by authority-figures to smooth things over, and for this she is patronised. On a personal level, she knows there is a buried trauma in her past: part of her wants to uncover this with the help of her psychotherapist, a not-very sympathetic man who Jenny suspects reports back to her superiors; yet part of her is afraid of what the truth will turn out to be. The filter of Jenny's internal fears, exacerbated by her refusal to be intimidated or manipulated, gives these novels an edge that is both disorienting and fascinating. In THE REDEEMED, she has to stand up to senior lawyers, politicians, titled snobs and members of the establishment, yet tenaciously continues her unwelcome (to them) inquest into the dead woman, gradually uncovering not only the real circumstances of Eva's death, but also the truth about her own past. Some of the plot of this novel seemed to me a bit contrived when the final revelations are made, and the church aspects a bit of a cliche, but the device of presenting events through Jenny's uneasy, isolated yet brave perspective is a compelling one.
Maxine Clarke, England