A few years ago, way ahead of the fashionable, over-hyped, and largely disappointing array of domestic noir thrillers, Elizabeth Haynes wrote Into The Darkest Corner, untouched by girls, trains, nauseating middle class strife, and the like. To my mind, having dabbled in the current crop, Into The Darkest Corner still stands head and shoulders above what I have read to date in the domestic noir genre, in terms of its psychological depth, character development, the sheer visceral chill of a woman under threat, and how the reader can actually relate to and believe in the insidious danger that Haynes presented to us. Having read most of Haynes’ books since, I was more than happy to curl up with her latest book, Never Alone and post a review for this blog tour marking its publication…
Sarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie. When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant. After Sophie disappears, it’s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah’s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust. But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he?
And so to Never Alone, and Haynes once again with an immediate intensity, draws us into the life of Sarah Carpenter, an emotionally fragile woman three years on from the loss of her husband, and residing in a metaphorically empty nest with her two children having left home for differing reasons. What Haynes disseminates so well in this book is the nature of human relationships, and every character is used to explore the differing connections we make with one another. As the following demonstrates there are numerous different permutations of characters’ connections to one another throughout the book. Sarah finds herself emotionally unsettled by the reappearance of an old flame, Aiden, who takes up residence in a small cottage aligning her property, concealing certain revelations about his past interactions with her late husband, and the shocking reveal of his current career choice. She is also grappling with missing her daughter Kitty who is at university (who is also experiencing her first love affair) and the minimal contact with her son Louis, who has his own reasons for shunning her. Sarah also has only one close friendship in this small community, with glamorous and larger than life politician’s wife, Sophie, which seems an unlikely alliance, and when Sarah is plunged into the company of others seems rather a square peg in a round hole. Then there is Will, a friend of her son’s Louis, who comes to the attention of Aiden and Sophie for differing reasons, and Sophie and Aiden also have a connection. Haynes perfectly controls the gradual reveals about the deeper connections between various characters, and by splitting the narrative in sections between them, gives her a real opportunity to explore their psychology, and allows us to see the same scenarios from different viewpoints.
Sometimes I felt that the characterisation was a little diminished by the need to so completely control all their connections to one another, and how these would bring the action together at the denouement of the book, and felt there was a certain amount of repetition in how Sarah was presented. In particular, her critique of her own life, that did seem to be endlessly re-treading the same analysis of her emotional and financial situation. I hesitate to use the word annoying, but she didn’t engage my empathy as much as she should have. I did, however, like the characters of Louis and Sophie very much, who had interesting textures and quirks to them which I would have like to have seen more fully explored, and Aiden proved a pivotal figure to the book with shades of light and dark to keep the reader on their toes. There is also a sinister stream of consciousness by a certain character, that runs chillingly throughout the book, alerting us to the danger of an individual on the brink of violence, and Haynes largely conceals the identity of this person until a crucial point in the plot.
I very much liked the setting of the book, using the North Yorkshire Moors, as an immovable and threatening backdrop in the grip of winter, reflecting the psychological bleakness and threat of the main plot. The perfectly placed reveals of one character’s connection to another drove the plot consistently at a measured and controlled pace, and although the unveiling of the bad egg in the whole affair did not come as a real surprise, there was a good amount of tension and suspicion built up along the way to keep reading on. Although not entirely convinced why the bad person did what they did for the reasons they did and how this was played out, I feel that the consistency of the writing up until that point more than justifies giving this one a look. Perhaps, this is a testament to the writing of Haynes herself that even, in my humble opinion, a slightly below par book from her is still immeasurably more enjoyable than others in her chosen genre. Recommended.
(With thanks to Myriad Editions for the ARC)
Catch up with the #NeverAlone Blog Tour at these excellent sites: