It hit me, only moments after I received the contract for my three Shaman Mystery novels; I really did have to write a book in a year. I had never written a book in anything less than – well, a decade – and the fear slapped me off my office chair. Luckily, it didn’t dry up my writing, it got me searching for help. I found that help with NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month which challenges writers to reach 50,000 words during the month of November. I wiped November off the calendar to achieve 2000 words a day; watching no TV and never going out in the evenings. On December the first I emerged, like something from a chrysalis, with battered but beautiful wings and 60,000 words; more than half the second novel in the series; Unraveled Visions. (Midnight Ink 2014).
I was delighted to discover that one of my favourite crime writers took the same route with her first published novel; Elizabeth Haynes and Into the Darkest Corner (Myriad Editions 2011). In an Afterword at the end of the book she admits to becoming a Nano bore; “it’s very different from the usual way of writing a book.”
During this time, Haynes was pursuing a creative writing course at West Dean College near Chichester, and they encouraged her to submit Into the Darkest Corner. This is just the sort of incentive a new writer needs; it was soon being devoured by crime fans. It won the Amazon UK 2011 Rising Stars award, and became a New York Times bestseller. The Guardian review http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/26/first-novels-review-roundup, describes it thus; “From its uncompromising prologue – a young woman being bludgeoned to death in a ditch – Haynes’s powerful account of domestic violence is disquieting, yet unsensationalist.”
A bookshelf of crime fiction from Hayes' accomplished pen http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/
Into the Darkest Corner is a tense thriller with a clever structure; it is topped and tailed by two court transcripts; the first transcript sets you up to wonder just how sane and believable the narrator of the novel, Catherine, is. She looks back to 2007, when she met and fell in love with a charismatic police officer called Lee. Lee is vulnerable in a lot of ways; he’s also possessive and aggressive, and ultimately sadistic. We watch the slow but inevitable deterioration, until Catherine, like a lot of women in abusive relationships, is trapped. Catherine tells this story of this past while describing her life now, where she is controlled by a different jailor; OCD. She exhausts herself checking and rechecking everything about her life, but especially the security of her little flat.
Her two stories, told as alternating time settings, are taut as pieces of elastic that sting you if you flick at them.
Although Into the Darkest Corner is Haynes first book, it wasn’t the first of hers that I’d read; last year I read Human Remains (Myriad Editions 2013), which is even more psychologically tense and even more clever in its critique of mental conditions that make us dangerous to others. In Human Remains, Haynes explores NLP, a technique with is intended to be therapeutic and empowering, but her character, Colin, twists these aims chillingly. Haynes explains in the Afterword; “things that people actually want – to die without pain or fear – is accomplished in such a way that [Colin] can benefit too.”
I was impressed that, rather than running out of ideas or inspiration, Haynes’ work seemed to just get better and better. In her first book, I liked the way she brought abusive relationships to the fore as the main theme alongside obsessive, compulsive disorder. But I felt she’d reached deeper for Human Remains, and developed her writing, investigating the sad phenomenon of people who withdraw from society and end up dying alone…I wanted to explore the potential reasons why people make this choice…I also liked the idea of the roles of predator/prey and hunter/hunted.”
It’s almost unsurprising that right up to publishing Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes was a police intelligence analyst. “At the time,” she explains on her website http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/, “I was producing a quarterly report on violent crime and as part of this I read a lot of accounts of domestic abuse. I was guilty of having very fixed ideas about violence in the home and the sort of people who were victims of it, and this stereotype was challenged in every way by the reports I was analyzing. I’d always thought of domestic abuse as something that happened to ‘other people’, but it affects many couples and families from every part of society and is often very well hidden.” In Human Remains, Annabel is a police analyst, just like Haynes. She is concerned about an increase in people dying at home yet remaining undiscovered until the overpowering smell alerts a passer-by. And when Annabel discovers her own neighbour in this state, she seriously begins to investigate something that Colin is delighted to exploit.
Haynes says, “I’ve always felt the role of analysts within law enforcement has been sadly overlooked by fiction writers.” Well, no longer. I’m going back for more of Elizabeth Haynes; an unconventional approach to writing psychologically thrilling books that has crime reviewers singing her praises.