M. R. Hall
Simon and Schuster, Dec 2009, $24.99
After six months on the job as the Severn Vale District coroner, Jenny Cooper concludes that very few corpses remain unidentified after forty-eighth hours in the morgue. Although she is working on a Jane Doe that has been their guest for over a week, her prime assignment is to decide whether two alleged radical Muslim college students Nazim Jamal and Rafti Hassam, who vanished seven years ago are dead.
Her pre-inquest begins with Nazim’s grieving hysterical mother Mrs. Jamal begging Jenny to provide closure for her. The authorities involved in the case insist the two young friends traveled to the Middle East to join one of the Islamic extremist groups that operate on both sides of the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Finding irregularities in the police report, she thinks the duo never left England though the pair obviously had ties with a radical Islam group. Jenny convenes an inquest in which neither the cops nor MI5 and CIA operatives cooperate; in fact they go way beyond just stonewalling her, which leads her to wonder what they are concealing. When Mrs. Hazim dies suddenly and the Jane Doe body vanishes, she wonders what she has wrought even while struggling with a divorce, her cantankerous teenage son, and her relationship with disbarred lawyer Alec MacAvoy.
This exciting story line contains a strong inquest that with each clue expands in scope, but the plot is owned by the coroner who suffers from anxiety disorder and addictions caused by her mental illness. Ironically other characters are friendlier and much more charming, but readers will feel empathy only for the heroine and surviving relatives of the deceased. The Disappeared is a terrific coroner’s inquest that at times reads like an espionage thriller as M. R. Hall provides a strong investigation.