There has been plenty of news coverage in recent years of that most modern of phenomena – stalking. It is a crime that is often (but not always) perpetrated by men against women and occasionally it results in violence and death. It’s not a theme that I’ve particularly noticed in my crime fiction reading. I tend to avoid psychological thrillers and I also find the whole idea of obsession to be very upsetting. However I recently read Elizabeth Haynes’s excellent Into the Darkest Corner which I found to be a thoughtful and gripping thriller.
The book opens with the notes of a court case taking place in May 2005 and the interrogation of a Lee Brightman by the prosecuting counsel. Lee has clearly been stalking a woman called Catherine Bailey, and the questioning implies that Lee is either a policeman or a man in a position of authority. The book then alternates between the events of 2003/4 when Catherine meets and enters a relationship with Lee, and the present day where Cathy is attempting to rebuild her life. She clearly fears for her safety and has developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which causes her to check and re-check her flat every morning and evening. She meets a tenant in the flat upstairs, Stuart, who urges her to see a doctor friend of his and relationship between Stuart and Cathy slowly develops. However, the past and present are about to meet…
The most successful aspect of this book was how some of the clichés of the psychological thriller genre were slightly skewed. Lee is revealed to be a policeman and therefore we as readers, as well as Catherine/Cathy, are forced to reconsider where places of safety can be found. The parallel narratives work well because although Cathy clearly considers herself to be under threat, she is also attempting a new relationship which is developed alongside the unfolding of the older abusive one. Again, as a reader we scrutinise the gentle Stuart more because of the way Lee duped Cathy.
Haynes is also very good at showing how Catherine changed from an outgoing, sexually active young woman to someone desperate to avoid human contact. Some parts are difficult to read. I found Lee repulsive from the very beginning and although I could see how he would be attractive to a girl like Catherine, I was mentally imploring her to stay well away from him. There is also an interesting take on female friendship which I found to be entirely realistic and added an extra dimension to the book.
The fractured nature of the writing, moving between different periods perfectly suited this style of book and I’m looking forward to reading more of this author.