REVIEW: Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

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Read this book for: a unique killer, tight and realistic procedural details, interesting concept, beautiful slice-of-life realism

Quick Review: Absolutely read this book; it’s a non-standard mystery that is a beautifully-rendered, realistic portrait of life as much as an interesting, twisted story.


Lonely police analyst Annabel discovers a decomposing body in the house next door to hers, prompting her to start an investigation of her own into a spike in the number of similar bodies being found in their town. Convinced that there is something sinister in the jump in numbers, she fights to get the police interested before she becomes a victim herself.

HUMAN REMAINS is a very different piece of crime fiction for a many reasons. It challenges a number of existing crime genre stereotypes while painting an incredibly detailed and realistic portrait of the people involved.

I picked this book up off the sale table at my local bookstore, intrigued by the concept: a rash of bodies, who have all apparently died of natural causes, being discovered in the town. The story focuses more on why these people die and are not found for some time, rather than the actual method of their death. From that perspective, this is a deeply psychological thriller that examines the relationships and lives of the characters and the reasons that someone would give up on life.

I completely lost myself in HUMAN REMAINS; I could not put it down.

The concept of this novel is so refreshing and different for something in the crime/thriller fiction genre that I was skeptically expecting disappointment in the execution. However, HUMAN REMAINS absolutely shines in its portrayal of realistic characters and emotions. Along with her beautiful prose, Elizabeth Haynes has a knack for capturing incredibly relatable thoughts and emotions. I found myself nodding along all the time, and could identify with both the main character and the “killer” because their thoughts and experiences were so ordinary.

As a reader, you are also buoyed along by fast pacing, short chapters, and the precise and perfect selection of only the detail you need. This is a very fast read despite its 400+ pages, and it’s easy to lose track of time as the story clips along.

The most satisfying thing about this novel is not really the plot, because there isn’t much of it. It’s watching the development of the relationships around the main character. No forced love interest, no jaded detective, no real crumbling home life, just a portrait of a character who seems like a real person with real relationships and real issues. This is definitely a story where the plot exists to drive character development, and it does so very well.

If it seems like I am dwelling on the relationship angle in this review, it’s because that is the real strength of HUMAN REMAINS. It’s not a real mystery about the deaths, and the novel concept of the “killer” strains credulity at times. However, you can put that all aside and immerse yourself totally in the intimate details of the lives of the characters, which in many ways is more thrilling than all the car-chases, shootouts, hostage situations and daring rescues that many other thrillers will throw at you!

Definitely read HUMAN REMAINS, whether you are a crime fiction fan looking for a fresh take on the genre, or just love a story where the human element is perfectly, poignantly captured.

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