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by Elizabeth Haynes
Harper, August 2013
438 pages
ISBN: 006227676X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Elizabeth Haynes shows her dark and twisted side in HUMAN REMAINS. A psychological thriller crossed with a police procedural, the book tells the story of two very lonely and isolated people–both the perpetrator (Colin) and the victim and heroine (Annabel). The book opens with Annabel, a police intelligence officer just like the author, discovering the dead and putrefying body of her neighbor. Annabel, who lives alone with her cat and spends her days in isolation watching her police intel colleagues mingle and socialize, takes a personal interest in the case of the dead woman whom no one had missed for the months it took for her body to decay. As Annabel investigates and finds a huge spike in similarly ignored deaths in the area, her mother, who has also been her one connection to another human being, dies. Annabel slips into a depression she is only dimly aware of, and in the process, runs across Colin.

Colin has chosen a life with few connections other than his "research." He is intensely interested in two things: what happens to the human body after death, and masturbation. The book is full of descriptions of both. Haynes' wonderful descriptive abilities are in evidence in other contexts, but fortunately she exercises restraint in applying those abilities to Colin's activities. Colin's and Annabel's isolation play off one another as the plot develops and the two characters' lives intertwine in various ways.

The book is told in the first person, alternately from Colin's or Annabel's perspective. Because of this lens, the other characters in the book take a decidedly background role and their behavior, skewed as it is by the main characters' perspectives, can seem unexpected. Neither Colin nor Annabel is well able to understand other people's motivations, except for Colin's uncanny ability to spot those desperate folks on the verge of suicide. This results in several cases where the reader is as surprised as Annabel at someone's actually caring for or about her. This is an internal strength of the book, and it helps support the overall sense of creepiness.

Enjoy is not a word to be applied to HUMAN REMAINS. However, the book was well written and gives the reader something substantial to think about. Colin sees himself as a helper to his "victims," and Annabel initially sees him as an angel. I predict that this book will become a book club favorite, as club members can mull over the concept of euthanasia in the context of a gripping thriller.

§ Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, November 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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