Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over six years. She is a crime fiction Editor for an independent publishing company in London.
M. R. Hall has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while. I’ve heard him speak at CrimeFest and I like the idea of a coroner going above and beyond the call of duty to solve suspicious deaths, as his protagonist Jenny Cooper does.
The Chosen Dead is at its heart a conspiracy thriller. The first two chapters introduce you to two scientists working on genes and viruses – one American, one Russian. One is kidnapped and the other defects and that’s all you’re told for the moment, but you know that they have to be integral to the plot – and they are. In the present day, long suffering Jenny Cooper is called to return a death by suicide on young Aid worker Adam Jordan. Leaving his two year old son in his car he has allegedly jumped to his death. The suicide angle doesn’t sit right with Jenny though. Jordan portrayed none of the usual characteristics found in male suicides and she finds it difficult to believe that anyone would leave their two year old son alone. Cooper is feeling guilty – although she seems to feel guilty about a lot of things – about her role in her own son’s life and now that he is at university she feels pressure to reconnect with him.
When the daughter of old friends is struck down with a rapid and aggressive form of meningitis, Cooper’s arrogant and obnoxious ex-husband, David (if there was ever a man who deserved a punch on the nose), hints that there might be a cover-up by the hospital. When another young woman – a prostitute – dies from the same strain, suspicion falls on the doctor father of the first victim. Cooper manages to link both her suspected suicide case and the meningitis cases and discovers that perhaps things aren’t as clear cut as they first appear. Facing down MI5, the Government, the hospital, the police and some shady thugs, Cooper battles to get to the truth, even though it could cost her those closest to her.
Jenny Cooper is a tenacious character: at times though she can be annoying and frustrating. Her relationship with Michael seems to be going well and she’s pretty sure she loves him, but woe betide him when he suggests that maybe she should spend some quality time with her son and perhaps less time on her work. Cue intergalactic meltdown of rather epic and OTT proportions. However, if you died in suspicious circumstances you’d want someone like Jenny Cooper searching for answers and not just putting an easy spin on things and writing you off because it’s convenient. Despite working for the dead, her character reminds us what it means to be human. In today’s 24/7 society I’d put up with a few irritating qualities for that, wouldn’t you?