I know that I have mentioned on here a few time how I have a slight issue about seeing reviews of books here there and everywhere before they come out. I am however going to break that rule today, though as ‘Human Remains’ is out tomorrow (so not a million months away) and because I seriously think it is one of the best thrillers that I have read in some time and have been bursting to tell you all about since early January. I can wait no longer. It is one of the most exciting and original thrillers I have read for some time so I hope you will forgive me breaking my own rule, if mildly, so you know to get your hands on it as soon as you possibly can.
Sad as it may be many people die alone in their homes each year, people who might have run away from their family, lost touch with them or lost someone special in their lives or simply have found themselves alone through other circumstances. ‘Human Remains’, Elizabeth Haynes third novel (her debut ‘Into The Darkest Corner’ won Amazon book of the year in 2011 and gained rave reviews), looks at the people in these situations and then adds a dark and chilling twist. What if not all of these people died alone?
This is something that information analyst Annabel discovers has been unusually high in Briarstone, not long after she discovers the body of her next door neighbour, who she thought had moved away some time ago, in a serious state of decomposition – Haynes isn’t shy of building us a true and full picture throughout the book. Annabel believes there is something unusual going on yet none of the ‘real police’, for there is a divide between the admin and the force, take seriously. That is until they receive a call telling them where to find another lonely deceased member of the public, yet there are no signs of murder. Yet the amount of people dying alone, as Annabel notices, is exceptionally high and rising but what will it take for anyone to listen.
“Working as civilians in the police force was often a battle of cultures, trying to persuade senior officers that we had a worthwhile contribution to make to an investigation, to resource planning and to strategic initiatives, just as much as officers who had real experience going out and arresting people. The nearest I was likely to come to a criminal was living in blissful anonymity two streets away from my local serial sex offender, or passing someone in the office as they waited to be dealt with. I was never going to have to calm down someone who was holding a knife, nor tell someone that a loved one was dead. I was never going to have to try to persuade a woman to leave her violent partner, or tell a parent that their child was being abused. Instead I looked at all the figures, all the raw data that churned in day after day, forming it into patterns, looking for a way in. Even then, after finding something that was potentially interesting, trying to persuade the senior management that my recommendations were worth following up was often a battle.”
Haynes has already supplied us with an unusual possible set of crimes and an unusual look at the police procedural from a different perspective. She then throws in even more firstly as Annabel discovers the long abandoned remains of her neighbour, who then becomes another of the statistics she has to follow at work. She also makes Annabel a highly likely contender to be one of those people one day. Annabel has been single for years, she has few friends, an embittered mother to go and care for leaving her with no social life and just a cat for company. Even the people at work think she is a bit of an odd ball, yet this isn’t Haynes trump card yet, that is to come.
“’You’ll be getting a cat next…’
‘Hey, don’t knock it,’ Kate said. ‘It’s only her cat that stops Annabel from going completely batty you know.’
‘Don’t be mean,’ Amy said. ‘She’s not batty.’
‘She’s heading that way, if you ask me.’
I stared at them, wondering if they really hadn’t noticed I was standing right there or if they were being deliberately rude.”
For her final master stroke with this novel Haynes then puts you firmly in the mind of the psychopath at the heart of what Annabel thinks she might have spotted, a very clever move though one I cannot say too much about for fear of spoilers. This is one of the creepiest narrative voices that I have had the uneasy pleasure of spending time with. He is wonderfully and grimly fascinating and makes a gripping whodunit become and even more twisted ‘whydunit’. As Haynes then sets Colin and Annabel on a similar trajectory it is not long before the two meet and even more twists and turns arise. Honestly it is brilliant and utterly chilling.
With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on. Highly, highly recommended reading!
What was the last crime novel/thriller that completely gripped you from start to finish? Have any of your read either of Elizabeth Haynes other novels, I have them both on the TBR and am not sure which one to read next, any recommendations?