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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

‘A Life to Kill’ by Matthew Hall

Published by Mantle,
12 January 2017.
ISBN: 9780230752382

This was my first encounter with Jenny Cooper, Matthew Hall’s sensitive and determinedly independent district coroner, but I hope it won’t be the last.

When she looks into a sudden or suspicious death, Jenny believes in uncovering the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth for the relatives left behind, but that isn’t always as easy or straightforward as it should be – especially when she comes up against the might of the British military.

Investigating the deaths of two young soldiers hours before they were due to return from Afghanistan, she is faced with stonewalling from the regiment as it tries to protect its reputation, and grandstanding from a no-win-no-fee lawyer on a mission to prove negligence. As if that wasn’t enough, her live-in partner’s past comes back to haunt him – and it’s far from clear whether his problems are somehow connected to her case.

As Jenny and her faithful officer Alison Trent peel away the layers of half-truth, they battle not only with army bureaucracy and obstruction but also with politics, in the shape of Simon Moreton, a senior coroner and old adversary with an agenda of his own. These three characters form the substructure of the novel, and, I assume, the series; the relationships between them are well developed, as are the characters themselves, and there is clearly plenty of backstory waiting to be explored.

It’s plain from the outset that Matthew Hall has researched the military background meticulously. The settings, from the primitive forward command post in Afghanistan to the magnificent officers’ mess at regimental HQ, are highly visual; and the widely varying personalities of officers, other ranks and their families make for a rich and engaging mix.

Throughout the narrative there’s a keen sense of something going on under the surface, despite the determination of all parties (apart from Jenny and Alison, of course) to skew the story their way. When the truth does finally emerge, it does so explosively, and no one, not even Jenny herself, escapes unscathed. But then that’s probably the nature of war, so more power to Matthew Hall for telling an even bigger story than perhaps he intended.

Jenny Cooper is an intriguing character: damaged and made wise in equal measure by her past, empathetic towards those left behind by sudden death, resolute in her pursuit of the truth no matter what the personal cost. I look forward to furthering my acquaintance with her before too long, and strongly recommend A Life to Kill to anyone who enjoys a good character-based read.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick 

Matthew Hall was born 1 May 1967 in London.  He was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Worcester College, Oxford, where he graduated in law. He now lives and works in the Wye valley in South Wales. During a career at the Bar, working mostly in the field of criminal law, he tried to learn the craft of screen writing, eventually getting his first commission in television writing an episode of the ITV hit series, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw. He went on to write further episodes and shortly afterwards was commissioned to create a series for the new Channel Five, Wing And A Prayer. The first season earned him a BAFTA nomination in the best series category. His debut novel, The Coroner, was published by Pan Macmillan in the UK in 2009 and was nominated for the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger in the best novel category. Since then Matthew has penned six further novels. His most recent A Life to Kill published 12 January 2017. Matthew spends much of his spare time looking after his sixteen acres of woodland and working for the conservation of the countryside.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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