Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes – a review

This was the first book I read on my recent trip to hospital and the third book I’ve read by the author who I met a couple of years ago at the crime festival.

Human Remains is a story told from the perspectives of two main characters. Firstly there is Annabel. She lives alone and has few friends, even her work colleagues see her as a bit of joke despite being good at her job as a police analyst. The other main character in the story is Colin. He works for the council and again is a very solitary person although this is more through choice than circumstance. He is highly intelligent and preys on the lonely and vulnerable. The story begins with Annabel going to look for her cat and finding the decomposing remains of her next door neighbour. This being so close to home makes her realise during the course of her work that there are alot of bodies found of people who seem to have simply starved to death. She starts to investigate further until her mother dies and she meets journalist Joe.

The story flicks between the view point of the two main characters and enables us to get a good understanding of their backgrounds. In addition interspersed throughout the novel are newspaper articles. These relate to dead bodies that have been found alongside chapters written in the dead people’s voices telling us what led them to do what they did.

I really enjoyed Human Remains (when not being distracted by nurses fussing around, or my neighbours watching day time tv) Whilst the story could not be described as fast paced I felt the relatively slow boil nature of it was perfect for giving the sense of loneliness and desperation that makes the characters within vulnerable to manipulation. The switching between the viewpoints works really well I think. It can often be a bit confusing when books are written like this but Annabel and Colin were portrayed clearly and gave a real insight into how their minds worked, this was especially true of Colin.

This is not a classic who-dunnit as it is obvious from the outset who is the perpetrator. However none of this made it any less of a page turner. The way the story unfolds makes you want to understand why the characters do what they do, and gives you a great feeling of the sadness lurking beneath their actions. I suspect that any single person in their mid thirties with knowledge of Bridget Jones and her alsatian fear will have some empathy with people in this novel.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book as a bit of winter reading, although half way through you may feel the need to stop and go and check on your neighbours if you haven’t seen them for a while!

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