Review: Human Remains; Elizabeth Haynes

Riveting reading (4.5 stars)

Source- personal copy

Published by Myriad Editions- February 2013

I read the Kindle edition. The paperback edition is 368 pages

I really enjoy psychological thrillers, sometimes the more disturbing they are, then all the better! For me, Human Remains slides neatly into this category, with its dark storyline and its positively chilling oddball protagonist, Colin Friedland. I’d just read a pretty dull book for review on behalf of Netgalley and this was exactly what I needed to pick me up again.

Just how well do you know your neighbour? Would you notice if you hadn’t seen them recently? In the town of Briarstone a large number of lonely people are dying. Their desecrated remains are found rotting in their homes weeks, sometimes months after their death- and with no signs of foul play evident.

Crime analyst Annabel notices this disturbing pattern and wonders just what these solitary deaths can be attributed to; for most worrying of all, it looks like these people have simply given up on life and actually wanted to die…

Phew. Sounds compelling, doesn’t it? Believe me when I say that this is definitely a fast-paced, intense read. It is also a bit unique in that from the outset of the novel, you know exactly who the perpetrator is and what they are going to do (and keep on doing). The whole ethos behind it is why they do it and whether or not they can be stopped.

A few years ago I read Hayne’s astonishing debut thriller, Into the Darkest Corner, which impressively, the author actually wrote during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Whilst I enjoyed it immensely, there was something about Human Remains that actually appealed to me even more. It is thought-provoking and captivating, not to mention incredibly atmospheric with some brilliant narrative perspectives that allow the reader to slip right into the heads of the characters.

Annabel, for a main protagonist is a pretty passive character and one who initially I found quite hard to connect to. She comes across as a very introverted loner (her only real companion being her cat) and lacking any real substance generally, which whilst worked brilliantly for the storyline (and for a certain character’s nefarious purposes!), admittedly made for dull reading at the start of the story. Her daily routines were repetitive and without any real motivation. However, she is pretty interesting in that respect as she has none of the standout gumption, attractive sexual allure or bravery that you would expect in a character within such a genre. As the plot continued, I warmed to her, felt sorry for her and I genuinely admired the journey that she underwent through the course of the story, not to mention her persistence.

Colin is an amazing character to read about. Without giving too much away about him, he has so many fascinating idiosyncrasies and his personal belief system is both perplexing and frightening. He for me, made this book what it was: a genuinely riveting read.

Aside from this story being told mainly from both Annabel and Colin’s perspectives, I was fascinated by the glimpses of some of the victims’ lives, too, after the fact that they had died of course… The mere snapshots we received of their situations were poignant as we come to realise exactly what has brought them to the sad, lonely states in which they currently reside and the reasons why they want to just give up existing altogether. It was an illuminating insight into depression, along with the experiences of its sufferers who feel they have no other avenues along which to go and also feel unable to seek help. Sadly, it was all too believable. It raises interesting and prevalent questions about how well (or not) our society as a whole helps people with depression.

Other aspects within this novel are incredibly realistic too- Hayne’s own career outside of her writing is actually that of a police analyst, and consequently her descriptions of procedural details and criminal insights are second to none. It sounds like a really fascinating career path to be in.  This book is very well-researched throughout and even the vividly gory details about bodies decaying are elaborate yet factual; the reader can tell they have been impeccably investigated.

If you are looking for a psychological thriller with strong characters and that poses some interesting questions, then you really must read Human Remains. Its topical themes would also make this an excellent choice for a book club read.

Other books by Elizabeth Haynes:

Into the Darkest Corner

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