Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad Editions, 2011)
It had to be an exceptional book to break my book-blog-block and this is it: Into the Darkest Corner — a nervy, heart-racing, page-turner —the debut thriller by Elizabeth Haynes. The story is common-place enough: party-going good-girl meets dark, handsome stranger with mysterious past… except—, Haynes takes the outline of a common-place story and creates an enthralling read. It’s a one-sitting—impossible- to- put- down kind of book.
The story begins slowly, in May 2005, with a scene in Lancaster Crown Court between a lawyer and the accused, named Lee Anthony Brightman. Brightman is giving evidence about his relationship with a woman named Catherine—who, he says, was “jealous” of his working away, “convinced” he “was having an affair.” There were “rows …she had some emotional problems … would start an argument … was violent towards” him. Only once, “the last time” did he “hit her back”. It seems as if the story is heading for murder— Catherine’s murder — told in retrospect. Unexpectedly, the next chapter opens on “Thursday, 21 June 2001” on the “derelict no-man’s land between the back of the industrial estate and the beginnings of farmland”, with an unnamed murderer standing “motionless, one hand on the shovel”, over the dying body of a girl named “Naomi Bennett”.
These are preambles to the story proper, building the tension, slowly infusing an unsettling tone which ripples through the opening pages and unfolds into the remainder of the book. Most of the story is told in the first person from Catherine’s point of view. The action takes place in different time periods and different places, switching effortlessly, scene by scene, between past and present and back again until the last pages, which are set in 2010.
Here’s a snippet:
Tuesday 12 February 2008
By the time I got to Talbot Street the sky was getting dark and it was getting colder. I walked along the alleyway at the back, looking up at the back of the house, at my flat, at the balcony, and the curtains. I looked at the gate, hanging off its hinges and the thick grass behind it.
The curtains hung exactly the way I’d left them. I looked at the faintly yellow space of my window, staring intently, trying to see into the room beyond.
It all looked perfectly fine, just as I’d left it.
In its depiction of obsessive-psychosis it reminded me, a little, of Nancy Price’s 1980s bestseller-turned-Julia Robert’s movie- Sleeping with the Enemy. But it’s grittier, cleverer, more authentic and more tightly plotted—and the twist is more devious.
If I had to single out one aspect of the book for high praise it would be its pacing: the story slows down, gathers momentum and races to the ultimate ‘don’t open the door!’ moment at exactly the right spot every single time. Just when the party-going begins to get tiresome, the tone shifts; just when Catherine’s OCD becomes overly manic, she finds peace and the pace settles but, just when things are looking up, everything heads downhill.
This is not to say that Into the Darkest Corner is flawless. There are a few eye-brow-raising too-neat coincidences but they don’t spoil the story. It seems too pat for Catherine to find a specialist at just the right time or to bump into someone from her past at exactly the wrong moment. Then again, Agatha Christie got away with them.
Elizabeth Haynes is living the writer’s dream just now—: On her website she lets us into her journey to publication from first beginnings in a flush of frenetic writing during the madness that is NANOWRIMO and from there to finding an agent and then signing a contract with Myriad Editions. If you’re ever in doubt or in need of inspiration it’s worth hopping over there.
And the news just gets better for Elizabeth— Adrian Weston [rights agent] reports that she’s secured a three-book deal with Cargo, an imprint of the distinguished Dutch publishers de Bezige Bij — Into the Darkest Corner is now published in nine different countries
And The Bookseller reports that Haynes won the first “Amazon Rising Star Award” for best debut novel – beating A. D. Miller’s Booker-nominated Snowdrops (Atlantic) and putting her in the short-list for overall best debut of 2011.
Into the Darkest Corner has 193 Amazon reviews; 173 of them are 5 stars. Read it — I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.