* Prices may differ from that shown
Since I'm currently not working I seem to be spending much of my time reading. I tend to do through phases in my life where I read a lot, then others where I barely read at all. I've recently become a bit disillusioned with my kindle as I really prefer real books, and I've rediscovered my local library which is already saving me a fortune as I'm not buying books.
I read Elizabeth Haynes' first book "Into the Darkest Corner" a couple of months ago. I was absolutely blown away by it (although didn't review as there were already some good reviews of the book written), and went out straight away to buy her second book "Revenge of the Tide", Although readable, it wasn't particularly good and I was pretty disappointed.
I ordered "Human Remains" to be delivered to my local library (from another within the county), and hoped that it would be on a par with her first rather than her second novel.
I was reading the paperback version of the book (published in 2013) which has 385 pages. After this there is a vaguely interesting interview with the author, and the first chapter of "Revenge of the Tide".
On the front there's a picture of a young woman looking out of a window, and the words "Just go home and lock the door". On the back is a very brief blurb...in fact not much of a blurb at all. Strangely there are quotes on the back praising Haynes' first novel - why not have quotes praising this novel?
Chapters are short (and not numbered) which encourages the reader to just keep reading - I read it within a day of starting as I couldn't put it down!
---The Plot and the characters---
There are two main characters in this book, and the book is mostly written from their perspectives in the first person (it says their name at the beginning so we are clear). In my opinion this is a great way to write as it really enables the reader to get inside the heads of the main characters.
Annabel is a police analyst (like Elizabeth Haynes, the author), looking at data from crimes and looking for patterns. One evening she notices a smell coming from her neighbour's house, and finds a shockingly decomposing body. This discovery prompts her to investigate further the growing numbers of decomposing bodies being found in Briarstone. Although there are always going to be bodies which are found a while after death it does seem that there have been a lot. In addition to this, bodies are normally those of elderly people, and these spread a wide age range - there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern there, and it doesn't appear that there is any evidence of foul play. It is all very strange.
Annabel lives alone with her cat. Aside from her work (where she doesn't particularly engage with anyone), her only real contact is visiting her elderly mother a few times a week (with whom she seems to have a difficult relationship). She doesn't seem particularly happy in her life (overweight, not very attractive, no friends etc), although at the start of the book seems relatively content - that is until her world gets turned upside down. Annabel isn't the most exciting character, but she is likeable and as the reader I wanted everything to work out ok for her.
Colin works for the council. He's a bit of a loner aside from one friend Vaughn. He spends most of his evenings drinking whisky, studying (he's currently learning about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), on which he's attending a course - previous interests have included biology), and masturbating over pornography (mostly). He's highly intelligent, but thinks he is above everyone else and beyond the rules of society. Despite being a creep (he did get called 'Creepy Colin' at school), and being sexually perverted, he isn't all bad as a character and there were occasions I even quite liked him. Through the book we learn about his childhood, and do get some sympathy for him, and why things have turned out as they have. That said though, I don't want to make him sound nice, because he isn't!
Other parts of the book are newspaper articles from the Briarstone Chronicle about finding new bodies, followed by sections written in the first person by that particular victim. I think that this is very cleverly done, as it gives as insight into the very different victims, and what events led up to what happened. The Briarstone Chronicle as a result of these deaths actually starts a campaign encouraging people to get to know their neighbours. This is an interesting theme - we have all heard on the news of bodies being found months after death and probably wondered why no one found out sooner. Perhaps neighbours have more of a role to play - I'm undecided on this one (it very much depends on your neighbours), but it's food for thought.
Other characters in the book include Annabel's mother, her work colleagues (and police investigators), and a journalist Sam who becomes involved with reporting on the decomposed bodies and plays a key role in the book. Then there is Colin's friend Vaughn and his girlfriend Audrey and his mother.
The book moves at quite a pace, with so much happening in a short space of time. There's not a great deal of time to stop and catch your breath, and I found that it was only after I finished reading the book that I really had a chance to start to think about the deeper issues in the book, rather than just focusing on the here and now of the main characters.
With quite graphic descriptions at times of the bodies (you can imagine really) as they decompose, this book isn't pleasant reading at times, so for that reason might not be for everyone.
I was pleased with the ending of the book (obviously I won't give anything away), as it left a lot to the imagination. I think it was a fitting ending for what was such an interesting concept for a book.
---Other themes and thoughts---
This book does raise a lot of issues. Family ties (and lack of) are a running theme throughout the story, both in the lives of the main characters, but also in the victims' stories.
For me it brought back thinking about being alone. When I split up with my ex I lived alone, with no family or friends around me (although I do have them, just not locally)...and being suicidal frequently there were many times I thought about just disappearing, and wondering how long it would be before anyone even noticed (although I'm sure that they would have). Quite frankly I'd have been a prime target for what happens in this book (especially if I'd isolated myself further)...and that is scary. The author says "it's difficult to know whether dying in your own home, alone, and at a time of your choosing, is something that should be seen as a tragedy or as a basic human right."
In my own personal experience of hitting rock bottom, I had chosen my path...I knew I was going to end my life, it was just a case of tying up loose ends really, and a matter of where and when. However, I was lucky as I met people, and various things happened along that path which made me eventually turn back and find another path.
Although some of the victim's stories are seemingly hopeless, and often tragic, I believe that there is hope for everyone no matter what has happened. But that does of course depend on that person getting the help and most importantly the hope to see that there can still be a future. The book does also raise for me the issue that giving up and dying is often the easier option rather than continuing and facing the pain.
These are just what the book brought up for me, so I'm not really looking for debates. However, I would say it's a sign of a good book if it starts making me think like this!
This is an excellent book, and Elizabeth Haynes is back on top form after the somewhat disappointing "Revenge of the Tide". If you loved "Into the Darkest Corner", I'm pretty sure that you enjoy this too. Although very different, it is just as gripping and scary, although scary in a different way!
I don't think though that it is suitable for everyone. I have one friend in particular who lives alone (a distance from me), with no family or close friends nearby, or really anything to keep her going, and very serious mental health problems which no one seems able to address adequately. I wonder if reading a book like this might make her think that it is ok to give up. It isn't, there is always hope.
The paperback version has an rrp of £7.99 but can currently be found on Amazon for £5.75, and the kindle version is currently selling for £4.79 - or you could save your money and get from your local library!
5 out of 5 stars from me.