One of the goals Auntie M has in writing this blog is introducing US writers to great UK authors they may be missing. Elizabeth Haynes (Into the Darkest Corner; Dark Tide) writes quality crime novels you’ll want to seek out. Auntie M had the privilege at Bouchercon of interviewing Haynes about her newest thriller Human Remains. The first photo is of Elizabeth charming the audience as she moderates a panel. She is warm and personable with a wicked sense of humor, and we shared a delightful time together. Here are her thoughts on her work; the review follows.
Auntie M: Your first two books drew on your experience as a police intelligence analyst, yet Human Remains is the first to give your protagonist that actual job, a real glimpse into a civilian working for the police. Tell us how your job sparked this book’s storyline.
Elizabeth Haynes: Every morning we received a bland document, the Chief Constable’s report of all reported incidents for the last 24 hours. “Human remains found” is often noted with no name or details or identifier. It’s an incident but not necessarily a crime if these people appear to have died from natural causes, yet it happens more often than you’d think and I wondered about these forgotten people.
Then I saw a documentary called Dreams of a Life, about 38 yr-old Joyce Vincent, whose decayed body was found in her flat three years after her death. She was sitting on her sofa surrounded by Christmas presents she was wrapping and the telly was still on! No one had missed her, no had checked on her–she had no “key layer” of people who would have raised the alarm. I started to think: what if someone out there was responsible for these seeming natural deaths, how would I search for this to find a pattern? I gave that job to my character, Annabel.
AM: You have created some really creepy bad guys. How do you get close to them?
EH: The first two books were concerned with relationships and it felt easier to write them. This one differs significantly. Both Annabel and Colin are unsocial people, but for vastly different reasons. I see my books as a snapshot of my characters, a window to them. I love them all, even the baddies. At first Colin didn’t want to talk to me, and I suspect he’s more intelligent than I am. He does hideous things but he sees the beauty in what he does and believes in it.
AM: Whether it’s OCD, pole dancing, or neuro-linguistic programming, you do extensive research. It’s one of the bits I enjoy most in my mystery series–do you?
EH: I do enjoy research but I’ve learned there’s a fine line for me between what’s productive and getting track-tracked on something else that catches my fancy. For this book, I was comfortable with the analyst side of it but less so with the NLP and hypnosis. The forensics of decomposition were the hardest. I was sitting in a coffee shop with this huge book on decomposing bodies and after the first picture, I slapped Post-It notes over them all. I could read the text and absorb the words but that photo was disturbing and still haunts me.
AM: With a husband and young son, how do you fit writing into your personal life?
EH: I have a very good husband who gives me space to write when I’m in the thrall of it, although I’m very good at procrastination. I’m not predictable in my writing habits; it seems to come to me in waves or with the pressure of a deadline. I write in my hut with my dog, Bea, a Portuguese rescued podenco, sleeping on a bed next to me.
AM: When you read for pleasure, whose books are on your nightstand? And what writer influence you?
EH: I receive free books all the time and have found some gems, but the authors I look for and read consistently are Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, John Harvey and Mark Billingham, amongst others. I’m going to start Michael Robotham’s in order soon. I’d say Alison Lurie’s Love and Friendship was a big influence on my wanting to write.
AM: What’s up for fans of your writing after Human Remains?
EH: Next spring’s Under a Silent Moon will be a police procedural with a twist: the appendix contains actual flow charts that are used by the police analyst for the DCI, Louisa Smith. There are multiple narrators, and in the next few in this series, several characters from previous novels will appear.
AM: Thanks to Elizabeth for sharing her thoughts with readers. Now on to the review of her latest thriller, Human Remains.
Annabel is a police analyst who keeps herself busy with work, her cat and her aging mother, while trying to persuade herself she’s not lonely. When her cat investigates the next door neighbor’s house with shocking results, its Annabel who discovers the woman’s decomposing body. The woman’s absence was not noted, least of all by Annabel, who is disturbed to the point of paying attention to the other cases of “human remains found” in her area. Her talents at investigation soon lead her to find a surge in such cases, but she’s unable to convince her police colleagues to pay attention.
Colin is also a loner, but more by choice. His one friend invites him to meet the woman he’s interested in, with disastrous results. Colin is fastidious and highly intelligent, stuck in a mind-numbing job that pays the bills, and he takes multiple courses at night in subjects all related to the human mind. He has his own study of the human psyche in progress with appalling results, yet he’s convinced he has embarked on a wondrous experiment.
How the paths of these characters intersect, and the devastating results, form the basis for Haynes’ most chilling thriller yet. Readers will find themselves compelled to trace the trajectory of this story that weaves several threads expertly. One of the hallmarks of all of Haynes books is the level of research she does that adds multiple layers of plausibility to her stories.
The story is told in first person by both narrators, bringing the reader right into their minds and emotions. Sprinkled in between are newspaper articles of the discovery of these bodies, and in a specially insightful twist, chapters from the victims point of view. How these ordinary people living ordinary lives fall prey to Colin through circumstances that could happen to any of us adds to the book’s harrowing tone.
This is an all-too-believable story of what can happen to people who live alone. Highly recommended.