The work of a coroner is sensitive, socially important, and often challenging. It is also, to my way of thinking, absolutely fascinating. A great many crime writers have, over the years, featured coroners and inquests in their work, and I did myself in Waterloo Sunset, the most recent Harry Devlin novel. I was given a great deal of help with my research by two Liverpool-based coroners, and talking to them left me in considerable admiration at the way in which they did their work. Dealing with the bereaved is never easy, and it seems to me but one of the most important personal qualities that any corner can have is a strong sense of empathy.
There is no doubt that Priscilla Masters' regular character, the Shropshire coroner Martha Gunn, has the necessary attributes, and they are called upon again in her third and latest outing, Frozen Charlotte. This novel opens in striking fashion, with the arrival of a woman at the Accident and Emergency department of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital one cold winter's night. The woman brings with her a baby, but when a nurse takes a look, she shocked and revolted to find that the child is mummified.
From this chilling beginning, Priscilla Masters fashions another of her well-constructed mysteries. As ever with this author, the characters are carefully delineated, and Martha's personal life again features significantly, but without detracting from the development of the story. The believability of the background derives from Priscilla Masters' knowledge of her subject. She happens to work part-time as a nurse at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and in an author's note at the end of the book, she describes how she first encountered the porcelain dolls known as Frozen Charlottes.
With this book, Cilla Masters has moved to a new publisher, Severn House, but as usual she has produced an entertaining and highly readable mystery. I've mentioned before, but possibly should declare again, that Cilla is a friend of mine, but I really do think that she is an under-estimated writer, and I very much hope that this book brings her the wider recognition her novels deserve.