PERFECT REMAINS by Helen Fields
CBTB Rating: 3.5/5
The Verdict: shock-value serial killer thriller
What’s a crime reader to do when visiting a new country for the first time? Find a crime book set there, of course! On my first-ever trip to Scotland this fall, I picked up a copy of PERFECT REMAINS by Helen Fields - a Scottish crime novel which came highly recommended to me by friends and a Waterstones bookseller alike! PERFECT REMAINS has all the gore and shock value that readers expect from a serial killer thriller, coupled with its uniquely-Scottish backdrop and roots. If you’re in the market for a visceral and relatively gory crime novel with a side of police procedural, PERFECT REMAINS will be right up your alley. While this book didn’t upend some of my recent favorite serial killer thrillers (THE FOURTH MONKEY by J.D. Barker and HIDE AND SEEK by M.J. Arlidge, to name a couple), I thoroughly enjoyed this chilling story.
On a remote Highland mountain, the body of Elaine Buxton is burning. All that will be left to identify the respected lawyer are her teeth and a fragment of clothing. In the concealed back room of a house in Edinburgh, the real Elaine Buxton screams into the darkness...
Detective Inspector Luc Callanach has barely set foot in his new office when Elaine's missing persons case is escalated to a murder investigation. Having left behind a promising career at Interpol, he's eager to prove himself to his new team. But Edinburgh, he discovers, is a long way from Lyon, and Elaine's killer has covered his tracks with meticulous care. It's not long before another successful woman is abducted from her doorstep, and Callanach finds himself in a race against the clock. Or so he believes ... The real fate of the women will prove more twisted than he could have ever imagined.
Above and beyond anything else about this book, what readers need to know first and foremost is just how “blood-and-guts” this story is. I’m not a squeamish reader, but a few of the scenes in this book absolutely put me off my usual habit of snacking while reading! In PERFECT REMAINS, Fields has crafted a killer who will make your ordinary crime fiction villains look just about harmless. PERFECT REMAINS promises that “shock value” element that draws readers to serial killer thrillers - and it delivers. If you like your books dark and visceral, you will love the world that Helen Fields has crafted. Her wicked imagination and unflinching writing draw the reader into a world that is grim, shocking, and often brutal. The manner in which this killer deals with his victims is utterly horrifying; not only does this story deliver chills in the violence it depicts, but also in the mind games that the story’s central villain plays with his victims.
That being said, personally, I would have preferred less gore and a bit more time spent digging into the psychology of the story’s brutal killer; I have limited patience for over-the-top violence in crime fiction, and PERFECT REMAINS is nothing if not over the top. This isn’t necessarily a negative - there will be readers for whom this will work perfectly! This is just a matter of personal preference; personally, a few of the very detailed moments of violence depicted in this story turned my stomach just a bit too much. (If you hate teeth - I do! - this might not be the book for you.) The other side of this coin is that, of course, my revulsion is evidence of Fields’ effective storytelling.
Some books take off from page one, while others need a bit more time to find their rhythm. PERFECT REMAINS falls into the latter category. The pacing of this thriller was a bit of a mixed bag for me; I had hoped for something utterly addictive, that would keep me completely hooked from the first page to the last. I absolutely love slow-burning mysteries, but when I read a serial killer thriller, I want to be on the edge of my seat from the book's first page to its last. While I did find the second half of the story completely engrossing, it took me longer than I had anticipated to get into the groove of this book. This story’s first 50 to 100 pages deal heavily in scene-setting: readers are drawn slowly but surely into the world of DI Luc Callanach as he gets settled into a new job and negotiates the “office politics” of his new police force. On the one hand, I wholly appreciated the care with which Fields establishes the connections and relationships between the police officers; on the other hand, I did find that it took a bit for this story to really click for me. However, if this book doesn’t grab you from the first page, don’t write it off—PERFECT REMAINS becomes genuinely addictive the farther into it you read, you just need to have a bit of patience. By the story’s second half, I was completely hooked. At its best, PERFECT REMAINS reads like an engrossing episode of Criminal Minds - and I mean that in the best possible way.
I have frequently seen a comparison drawn between Helen Fields and M.J. Arlidge, author of the DI Helen Grace series. While I certainly see the similarities, I do feel that there are noticeable differences and distinctions between the two - at least, based on my first foray into Fields’ work. If you love crime fiction that is gory and violent with a side-dose of police procedural, PERFECT REMAINS will be right up your alley. While Arlidge’s books certainly have violence, they are a bit tamer than the world Fields has crafted. When I say PERFECT REMAINS is brutal, I mean it is brutal. On the other hand, Arlidge’s books are much pacier reads; the Helen Grace books feature short chapters, allowing you to breeze through them at a pace which I didn’t find myself replicating in the majority of PERFECT REMAINS. PERFECT REMAINS certainly has its moments of edge-of-your-seat tension, but this pacing is not sustained throughout. Again, this is only my first dip into Fields’ work, and I certainly don’t mean any of this as a negative—simply a quality to be aware of. In short, Fields’ PERFECT REMAINS will work well for readers looking to dig into a meaty, shocking serial killer thriller, while Arlidge’s books will be preferable to readers who want their crime fiction pacey and purely entertaining.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed (if “enjoyed” is the right word for a violent serial killer read!) my first foray into Helen Fields’ books. While the pacing of the story wasn’t quite what I had expected, I found that the farther into this book I read, the more all-consuming it was. By the story’s end, I was in a PERFECT REMAINS daze, absorbed in the twisted world Fields has crafted. This is without a doubt a strong debut and series launch.
Series: A DI Callanach Thriller
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: AVON, a division of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (January 26, 2017)
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