Elizabeth Haynes

Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

515wJ5JzzzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title – Never Alone

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 28 July 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

Elizabeth Haynes’ debut, Into The Darkest Corner, remains the book by which I judge all other psychological thrillers – the tension she creates in that book is what most other authors who choose that genre can only aspire to. Since her debut there have been two further thrillers and she has started a police procedural series, all of which I have enjoyed, so I was thrilled to be offered the chance to review her newest title.

Sarah is a widow living with her two dogs in a farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors. With some financial difficulties and suffering a little from ’empty nest’ syndrome she offers to let an old friend, Aiden, stay in the cottage across from her house. It’s a spur of the moment offer as she hasn’t seen Aiden in a long time.

The story moves slowly with the rekindling of the friendship between Aiden and Sarah against the backdrop of her domestic life. Told from three slightly different perspectives – Sarah’s, Aiden’s (which is in the second person), and interspersed with fragments that are unattributed – adding another layer of mystery. It becomes clear that everyone has secrets but the masterly way the story develops means that you’re kept guessing.

Part of the fascination with the story is the relationship between Sarah and Aiden. Although they were close when at University they haven’t seen each other in more recent years and there was some sort of falling out that involved Sarah’s husband who was a mutual friend. This all means that the two characters are trying to feel their way through the new situation and understand how things stand between them. They both appear to have regrets about the past but it’s not clear how they want things to develop.

Something I should also mention is that there’s a decent amount of sex involved – the relationships are central to the story so this isn’t gratuitous but there is possibly more than readers of the genre might expect.

I thought Sarah was a fabulous leading character and a very credible one which seems to be particularly unusual in a psychological thriller. So often the leading lady can be a caricature rather than realistic, and frequently they’re unsympathetic. I really liked Sarah, though, and when things got tough there was no doubt who I was rooting for. I think developing the characters in this way is one of Haynes’ strengths – the more you care about them the more the you’re drawn in and the more effective the tension. The final denouement didn’t disappoint either – remaining all too believable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was one of those books that may sound cliched to describe as ‘unputdownable’ but once I had started I read it at every opportunity. Coincidentally I see that, like Into The Darkest Corner, this also started during NaNoWriMo – something that seems to be a winning formula. With a small cast of characters, a remote location and a severe snowstorm the gripping story ramps up to a thrilling climax. Scandi noir eat your heart out!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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A few quick reviews – Howzell Hall, Scarrow, Baldacci and Haynes

We’re fast approaching the end of  2014 and I have a stack of read but not yet reviewed books that is nagging to be dealt with. To try to start 2015 without these hanging over me I thought the approach would be a few short, sharp reviews – so here goes. I’ll start with a few that were in the 3 star “fine but I probably won’t remember the story for much more than a week or two” category.

landshadows_jpg_size-230Title – Land of Shadows

Author – Rachel Howzell Hall

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the fourth novel by American author Howzell Hall and the first in a crime fiction series as well as her first UK-published book. The series features the lead character of homicide detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton and she joins what feels like a remarkably short list of African American leads crime fiction (which must be shorter when you preface that with ‘female’).

Norton is called to investigate the apparent suicide of a teenage girl. It just so happens that the building in which the body is found is on land owned by local property magnate Napoleon Crase. Crase is a self-made man who comes from the same neighbourhood as Norton and coincidentally is her prime suspect for the disappearance of her sister some thirty years ago.

The story is told mainly in the first person and this lead to part of my disappointment with the book. I just didn’t really take to Norton. As a police officer she comes across as smart, sassy, confident but her personal life makes a mockery of this. Despite coming from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ she is now wealthy and seemingly happily married – but her husband appears to be a serial philanderer. It seems out of character that at home she is a weepy, downtrodden wife.

I liked Howzell Hall’s writing style which follows in the footsteps of traditional American crime fiction. I wasn’t so keen on the way the investigation was linked to the main detective’s personal life and it will be interesting to see how Howzell Hall takes the series forward.

You can see another point of view on Raven’s blog.

scarrowTitle – The Candle Man

Author – Alex Scarrow

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller

I am a huge fan of Simon Scarrrow’s ‘Macro and Cato’ series, so  I was interested to find that his brother, Alex, had written a number of thrillers (as well as his Time Rider series).  The premise of the book is an odd one. It opens as the Titanic begins to sink and a young woman is pushed in her wheelchair to the almost empty dining room to await her fate when an elderly man, the only other occupant of the room, recounts how he knew Jack the Ripper.

The story then shifts back to the Whitechapel of 1888 and is told from two points of view – that of Mary Kelly who helps an unconscious man she find in the street and a man who wakes in hospital having lost his memory. The book then weaves the story of the two characters as their paths cross. Through the telling of their stories Scarrow provides an alternative to the traditional explanations we’re familiar with.

I thought the take on the Ripper story was an unusual one but the pace was plodding and there was more telling than showing.

You can see another point of view at the For Winter’s Nights blog.

David-Baldacci Title – The Target

Author – David Baldacci

Published – 2014

Genre – Thriller

I have been a Baldacci fan since the publication of Absolute Power in the late ’90s and his hardback books were a must have present every Christmas. Some of those early titles were really excellent – fast, pacey thrillers in an easy to read style and lots of twists and turns. In later years he started writing series, like The Camel Club and King and Maxwell, which gave him the opportunity to develop his characters a bit more thoroughly. So where does The Target fit in? It’s something like his 28th adult book and the third in the Will Robie series.

The plot sees Robie and his partner Jessica Reel being asked to take a leading role in protecting the United States. There is some reference to events in previous books as they undergo assessment to prepare for action. They also have some battles to win with their own side before they can face their target and there are some unpleasant people from Reel’s past who are after her.

Running alongside these plots is the life story of Chung-Cha, a young woman who grew up in the Yodok concentration camp and who has been honed by the North Korean authorities to be their own deadly assassin. Apologies to the author if this is all based on fact but I found some of the background and action scenes to be pretty implausible.

The story was achingly slow until it reached the climax where Robie and Reel go up against Chung-Cha and then I felt a little let down by the final resolution.

You can see another point of view on Milo’s Rambles.

silent moonTitle – Under A Silent Moon

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Haynes and Into The Darkest Corner remains for me one of the best examples of how to make a tense psychological thriller. In Under a Silent Moon she embarks on a new series of police procedurals with DCI Louisa Smith as the main protagonist. The book actually feels like a natural development from Human Remains which featured Annabel the police analyst.

DCI Smith and her team are called to investigate two seemingly unconnected deaths – a suspected murder at a farm on the outskirts of a small village and the second is a reported suicide at a nearby quarry. The book is unusual in that it also weaves in examples of source documents – encouraging the reader to feel more involved in the resolution. Not that I got there first.  There is also, as with Haynes’ other books, quite a lot of sex (often of the weird variety).

Haynes injects a lot of pace into her writing and there’s plenty of dialogue which spares the reader lots of exposition. There are multiple points of view so you have to keep your wits about you. I was a little disappointed that there was a love interest for Smith, especially as this is only the first book in the series.

This didn’t quite gel for me but it will be interesting to see how Haynes develops the series.

You can see another point of view from Book Addict Shaun.

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Revenge of the Tide – Elizabeth Haynes

Title – Human Remains

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime / Psychological thriller

I bought this book after reading Elizabeth Haynes’ excellent debut Into the Darkest Corner and then managed to read Human Remains (her third book) before starting on ‘Revenge’ but as they are all standalone titles it made little difference.

Told in the first person the book is from the point of view of Genevieve, an independent young woman who appears to be escaping something. She’s living on a houseboat (the “Revenge of the Tide”) which she is renovating in a small community on the Kent coast. As with Into the Darkest Corner the story has multiple timelines, providing Genevieve’s backstory in parallel with the current happenings.

Genevieve is described in the blurb as “sales executive by day, pole dancer by night” but this perhaps makes things sound more sordid than they actually are. There are more descriptions of evenings working in a nightclub and the dance routines (which I found hard to picture – I obviously don’t know enough about pole dancing!) than any shenanigans. She tries to keep her distance from anything too unsavoury but this doesn’t mean that her morals aren’t put to the test and she discovers what she is prepared to do for money.

Although the book has a dramatic opening there is not quite the same tension that there is with the other titles, instead it grows throughout the book as you wonder just what it is that Genevieve is escaping, and what prompted her exit from her two jobs. As with Into the Darkest Corner you become unsure which characters can be trusted and the tension mounts as you start to doubt the motives of those that surround her. For the most part I liked Genevieve but perhaps her morals were a little too lax for my liking or maybe, in the end, I found her just too fickle.

A good read but Into The Darkest Corner remains my favourite by Haynes. You can see some other thoughts at Eurocrime and The Little Reader Library.

Score – 4/5

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes

Title – Human Remains

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 14 Feb 2013

Genre – Psychological thriller

I was lucky to receive a copy of this book from @MyriadEditions in advance of its publication on Valentine’s Day later this year, although I’m not sure that it will be the most romantic of gifts! Despite being a huge fan of Haynes’ debut (Into the Darkest Corner) I have yet to read her second novel (Revenge of the Tide) but I was keen to see what else she had in store.

Before getting into too much detail I must say that this is one of those books that is very difficult to review without giving away anything of the story by way of a spoiler. I have tried to be careful.

The opening chapter is great example for any writer who wants to see how to create tension – proper edge of your seat stuff!

We see the events unfolding from two different perspectives. Annabel is an intelligence analyst for the police. She’s overweight, has no social life and thinks that her colleagues are talking about her behind her back. She lives alone with her cat for company and seems to be the only support for her elderly Mum. Colin is a highly intelligent young man with the strangest of obsessions. He too has a very limited social circle, and he’s had a less than perfect childhood. He’s single and I would say “looking for love” but that’s not really what he’s looking for. In fact Colin is turned on by pretty unconventional things and spends quite a lot of time, er, “pleasuring” himself.

Annabel spots a huge increase in the number of bodies of lone people being found dead in their own homes weeks or months after their deaths. Without any suspicious circumstances it’s a struggle for her to persuade bosses to take her seriously, but the issue does interest the local paper and in particular a young journalist. This is where the story really develops into a search for a cause or reason for these deaths.

As well as giving the characters of Annabel and Colin their own unique voices there are also “cameo” appearances by some of the people who are found dead. Haynes does an excellent job of giving these people very individual voices too. And these are all such sad stories! The book has quite a lot of gruesome description in it, although it is largely lacking in violence. It proved not to be the ideal read while eating lunch!!

This is truly a psychological thriller – but I can’t really say any more without giving the game away. I was actually fascinated by the methods used by the perpetrator and am looking forward to being able to talk to other people about this when they’ve read the book. I’m just glad I don’t live alone.

This is an unsusual and intriguing story and as well being a gripping thriller it is also fascinating to watch the characters of Colin and Annabel develop over the course of the book. It’s thought-provoking and certainly makes you question the power of the mind. This is a personal review, though, so it’s a 4 star read as I  didn’t actually like Annabel very much – for me the best fiction is where I really engage with the main character.

I stand by my original thought that fans of Nicci French novels will also enjoy books by Haynes.

You can see other reviews on the blogs Books and Writers and Pamreader.

Score – 4/5

Into The Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes

51a0+0sHvBLTitle – Into The Darkest Corner

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 2011

Genre – Psychological thriller

When I said on Twitter that I hadn’t enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep as much as  it seemed others had, the resounding response was that I needed to read Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. This is a debut novel named Amazon’s Best Book of the Year  2011 and longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2011.

A brief prologue, a transcript from a trial, introduces us to Lee Brightman. It’s apparent that he has been accused of a crime concerning his girlfriend Catherine, but it’s not clear exactly what the circumstances are.

Following a pretty disturbing short first chapter, we’re introduced to Catherine’s story. Then short chapters, similar to diary entries, alternate between her story in 2003 and 2007.

Weaving between the two timelines we begin to see how confident, gregarious Catherine has become a fearful shadow of her former self, controlled by OCD. In fact you soon realise that both threads of the story begin at points in Catherine’s life where she’s on the verge of a huge (and unforseen) change.

You can’t help but feel the sense of impending doom when reading about Catherine in the past – you know that something terrible is going to happen, but for Catherine in the present you have no idea how things will turn out. There’s an interesting point in the story where Catherine (in 2003) says that something has happened which “was going to change everything”, but as the reader you realise that this real moment is something seemingly inconsequential to Catherine a few days later.

It’s impossible (for me, anyway) to describe this book without using clichés. And they are “gripping”, “page-turner”, “edge of the seat”, “nail-biting” thriller. Haynes really knows how to build the tension.  The skilful writing meant that I couldn’t even decide whether to trust the apparent knight in shining armour that seemed to be on the verge of rescuing Catherine – was he too good to be true? By the end I wanted to check my own doors and windows, just to be on the safe side!

In fact in a small way this tension perhaps undermined the OCD aspect of the story – after all if you were in fear for your life wouldn’t you want to keep checking that the door was locked? But the issue is perhaps how real, or imagined, that threat is!

I liked Catherine as the leading character. I think too many of the female leads in my recent reading have been middle-aged, downtrodden women  and while they may be closer in age to me than Catherine, I much prefer to read books with younger, feisty heroines. Some may find it a bit too sexually explicit – but I think this just helps to illustrate Catherine’s character, and perhaps how much she was being manipulated.

This is a great debut novel and my first 5 star read so far this year, if you enjoy Nicci French or Minette Walters then you really must give this a try.

You can see other points of view from Eurocrime and The Little Reader Library.

Score – 5/5