Into The Darkest Corner is a first novel from Elizabeth Haynes — the biographical note says she is “a police intelligence analyst” based in Kent and that background does show up in spades in the book. The tag on the back cover labels it “General fiction/Crime fiction”, a dual listing that I think is accurate so I’ll try to focus on the “general” part.
The author does help out on the spoiler front by opening the novel with seven pages of testimony from the 2005 trial of Lee Brightman, including both direct and cross examination. We learn that he is accused of assaulting Catherine Bailey — his version is that she was suffering from ‘emotional problems’, was excessively jealous when his ‘investigative’ work (which he cannot tell her about) took him away for days at a time: “She went mad at me. I’d been working on a particularly difficult job and something inside me snapped. I hit her back. It was the first time I’d ever hit a woman.”
Haynes adds some more back story (and another character) in the opening of the novel proper, dated June 21, 2001 (you do need to pay attention to the dated chapter headings in this book):
Naomi Bennett lay with her eyes open at the bottom of a ditch while the blood that had kept her alive for all of her twenty-four years pulsed away into the grit and rubble beneath her.
As she drifted in and out of awareness, she contemplated the irony of it all: how she was going to die now — having survived so much, and thinking that freedom was so close — at the hands of the only man who had ever really loved her and shown her kindness. He stood at the edge of the ditch above her, his face in shadow as the sun shone through the bright green leaves and cast dappled light over him, his hair halo-bright. Waiting.
A third time frame, November 2007, is introduced a few pages later in the first person voice of Catherine Bailey:
Getting up isn’t my problem, getting out of the house is. Once I’m showered and dressed, have had something to eat, I start the process of checking that the flat is secure before I go to work. It’s like a reverse of the process I go through in the evening, but worse somehow, because I know that time is against me. I can spend all night checking if I want to, but I know I have to get to work, so in the mornings I can only do it so many times. I have to leave the curtains in the lounge and in the dining room, by the balcony, open to exactly the right width every day or I can’t come back in the flat again. There are sixteen panes in each of the patio doors; the curtains have to be open so that I can see just eight panes of each door if I look up to the flat from the path at the back of the house. If I can see a sliver of the dining room through the other panes, or if the curtains aren’t hanging straight, then I’ll have to go back up to the flat and start again.
So we know from the start that Into The Darkest Corner is not a “whodunit”. “What” was done and “how” are open questions — even more compelling is the issue of “why”. And the present tense stream of the narrative acquaints us early on that there have been severe personal consequences for Catherine Bailey.
Haynes chooses to tell her story by alternating two time frames — the events that led to that 2005 trial and what the emotionally-damaged Catherine is doing in trying to put together a life in 2007. The author puts her “investigative analyst” background to good work in simultaneously exploring both what led to the incident that provoked the trial and what the ongoing consequences of that were and are.
The result is a perceptive study of what it is like to be a victim — not just the obvious damage, but the coping strategies that are developed, the destructive obsession with trying to ensure safety and the way that all of that makes it impossible to lead any version of a normal life, however much that might be desired by the individual involved.
Yes, the two story lines do eventually come together with some very well developed suspense. By then, Catherine (at least for this reader) has become a very sympathetic character — the concluding pages are a good example that “general” and “crime” fiction can exist in the same book.
Into The Darkest Corner maintained my interest throughout; Haynes has a strong narrative voice and uses the alternating time frames to good effect. If the story outline sparks your interest, I think you would find this debut novel a worthwhile read. If it doesn’t, your time is probably better invested elsewhere.