Written by Elizabeth Haynes — Eleanor Rigby is one of my favourite Beatles songs, with its haunting lyric, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” You might dismiss it as a sorrowful composition rooted in the 1960s, but that’s where you’d be wrong. Loneliness is a 21st century problem too – and the popularity of dormitory towns, the rising crime rate and even the internet make it much more likely that days – even weeks – could pass by without you seeing a neighbour.
All of which makes the premise behind Human Remains all the more believeable. Annabel is a police intelligence analyst – a geeky, self-reliant woman who lives for her work, and loves finding patterns in crime figures and obscure statistics. Her home life is dull to the point of being non-existent, divided between caring for Lucy the cat, and her Mother, who lives on her own and is becoming increasingly demanding of Annabel’s free time.
So when Lucy comes home in a particularly smelly and agitated state, Annabel is little prepared for what happens next. She (literally) follows the scent and discovers the badly decomposed body of her next door neighbour, still sitting in her chair. Shelley has obviously been dead for a while, and Annabel is distraught. She thought Shelley and her partner had moved away long ago – how wrong could she be?
As usual, Annabel’s answer is to bury herself in her job, but an idle glance at local statistics in Briarstone for people found dead, alone at home, and apparently of natural causes, brings her up short. Over the past few months, the numbers have rocketed. She is sure there is a killer on the loose – but will anyone else take her seriously?
We readers have the march on Annabel – because we know who is doing it, how and why. Meet Colin, one of the most odious men ever to cross a page. Extremely clever, and inflated with his own self-importance, he is a complete sleaze bag, but a tour de force slice of characterisation from Haynes. Colin works for the local council in a job which, in his opinion, is well below his capabilities. At night he studies voraciously and presently he is garnering qualifications in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). But Colin has developed this further, and his hybrid brand of autosuggestion, plus a love of biology, encourage him to pursue some pretty macabre practical work.
In a clever plotting device, the novel is told from the perspectives of both Annabel and Colin – as well as from the viewpoint of some of his poor victims. It makes for a rounded, well paced read which closes on you like a Venus flytrap. The Colin chapters are especially disturbing – the man has no redeeming features and reading about his exploits leaves you wanting to wash your hands with a very strong disinfectant. But the star of the show is poor, mousy Annabel. A former winner of the Amazon Rising Stars award, Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst herself, and here she manages to turn a geeky nobody into the heroine of the hour.
This is an original, disturbing, chilling and scary book which reveals a great deal about modern life. Now excuse me while I just go to check on the neighbours… The book is released 14 February.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars