I love cautionary tales. No, not the ones where the world is going to end because someone drives a car that only gets 36 miles to the gallon on the highway. I mean a real cautionary tale, the type where you bring the wrong person home with you after a night of pub-crawling, or you behave badly because you’re spending the night in a different area code, or you accept a ride across a bridge with a U.S. Senator. I hold one in my hand right now, and it’s called INTO THE DARKEST CORNER by Elizabeth Haynes. It’s a great, keep-you-up-all-night reading and thinking exploration of the dark side of relationships with the wrong person.
"It’s a great, keep-you-up-all-night reading and thinking exploration of the dark side of relationships with the wrong person.... INTO THE DARKEST CORNER begs for a film adaptation for many reasons, even if there is no possibility that such a movie would be anywhere close to being as good as the book."
Haynes is a police intelligence analyst who no doubt has seen the aftermath of the type of situation she writes about here. The tale may be a bit familiar, but it’s her presentation and sharply defined characters that will keep you reading. Haynes tinkers a bit with what might be considered the traditional narrative structure, but all to good purpose. The story begins with several pages of a transcript from a 2005 court proceeding and ends with the record of another hearing in 2009. It’s the in-between that jumps back and forth in time, and the narrative itself clarifies both.
After a brief but chilling introduction, which you will want to remember at all times, the meat of the tale proceeds along two parallel tracks that alternate with each other throughout the book. Each of these commence at a different point in time separated by four years --- October 31, 2003 and October 31, 2007 --- and then moves forward in jumps of a varied number of days. It’s a bit complex, but each segment is clearly marked by the date, so the reader is easily able to follow what is happening and when.
Catherine Bailey is a twentysomething office worker living in London. It becomes clear almost immediately why Haynes has chosen this narrative style to tell Catherine’s story, for the woman we encounter in 2003 is far different from the one with whom we renew acquaintances in 2007. Catherine in 2003 is a worker bee by day and a party girl by night, hitting the clubs each evening with her friends and engaging in casual and reckless sexual encounters with wild abandon. It becomes clear in the first account of 2007 that something has occurred in the interim, for Catherine is reduced to moving through each day as a terrorized, insecure soul, wholly given over to an obsessive-compulsive disorder that controls every element of her existence. I have no idea if Haynes has ever been troubled by an OCD, but her description of Catherine’s affliction is better than first-rate, as she captures not only Catherine’s inner turmoil but also brings the reader into it on an extremely deep level.
So what has happened to Catherine? Haynes begins dropping the breadcrumbs to the answer early on, and the path quickly leads to Lee Brightman, a handsome and intriguing gentleman whom Catherine meets while out clubbing with her friends one evening. There is mutual lust practically from the start, and Brightman slowly but incessantly insinuates himself into every aspect of her existence. At one point, a small but significant and prophetic manifestation of what Brightman will do to Catherine occurs (it involves silverware), and because the reader knows how she is going to wind up, the effect of this knowledge --- and the reader’s helplessness --- is devastating.
Two things become obvious as the story lines alternate: Catherine somehow extricated herself from the relationship with Brightman, and she is still in some danger from him. It is the resolution of both these situations, and Haynes’ exquisitely paced and presented revelations, that keep the reader engrossed, intrigued, and reading, reading, reading.
On the strength of this first novel, Haynes is already on my “must-read” list. INTO THE DARKEST CORNER begs for a film adaptation for many reasons, even if there is no possibility that such a movie would be anywhere close to being as good as the book.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 6, 2012