PERFECT REMAINS - by Helen Fields

Published: 2017 - by Avon.
Genres: Adult / thriller / contemporary fiction
Pages: 416.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Scenes of trauma, graphic violence, mentions of rape and physical abuse, and one explicit sex scene. 
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Jonathan Ball SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
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.

I seriously seem to be on a thriller spree at the moment. Since the start of October I've read about four. All appropriate, I guess, considering that it's Halloween season.
So I was thrilled to start this book, loving the synopsis and the sound of the characters. But instead, I was disappointed.

The writing is darkly elegant and terse. I love that. But pivotally, it lacks urgency. At page 200 I still wasn't gripped (although towards the climax I couldn't put the book down) and there's no real feeling of panic or desperation from Callanach, despite the author telling us that he's desperate to find the killer. I just couldn't feel his desperation. I wasn't convinced of his need to save the women, however much I knew deep down that obviously he wanted to because he's the detective and the good guy, blah blah blah.

The dialogue is weak. It's lackluster, conventional, and although I'm delighted to say that the characters' actions speaker much louder than their words, it's still their words and exchanges I wanted to feel more from. That's another disappointment.

First he takes them. Then he breaks them...

The mystery aspect (or more like thriller, since we actually already know who the psycho is from the start) doesn't completely work. It's supposed to be a thriller, but without the essential urgency of a thriller it falls flat. And not to mention the scattered jumble of a plot - a plot that's disjointed, disorganised, and without a proper focus, thanks to a subplot that challenges the main plot's significance. The whole subplot (although really it's bigger than that) of the nuns and the pregnant girls has no tie to the main plot involving the kidnapped women, and it's although it's an emotional and incredibly interesting story by itself, it's unnecessary in the bigger picture. It doesn't tie to the main plot and it doesn't do much for the characters (except occupy Ava's character for a while) so why's it there? In another story - or even one where it is the main plot - I think it'd be brilliant. But with another plot as the focus of this book, that whole nun/pregnant girls story doesn't make sense.

And the main plot bothers me too. Clues are discovered by the detectives as the book progresses, but then they return to those clues chapters later and salvage at them again and discover more info. But this isn't clever sleuthing; it feels desperate, like the author's trying to drag information from already dry sources. And the finding of said clues is vague and coincidental anyway. It isn't clever enough.

'It was funny, Callanach though, how women were so much sexier when they weren't trying to be. He looked at Ava's sensible boots on the floor, at how she curled into a ball, wrapped around her mug, utterly unselfconscious and at ease.'

The characters aren't strong. The secondary cast is weak, and D. I. Callanach is an incredibly inconsistent protagonist. I still can't get a grip on his character, and his back story also feels very forced.

But the ladies in this novel are amazing. They're the ones with compelling, three dimensional personalities. Jayne's levelheadedness and quiet authority, Elaine's child-like innocence and humanity, Natasha's fire and loyalty, and Ava's vulnerability, passion and independence all come through vividly. I just love the female characters; Ava, especially, is a sparkling personality amidst an otherwise grim, gritty story - giving much needed light. She's easy to love and root for.
The villain is equally as well written as the ladies. He's chillingly deranged, deeply disturbing, and with a back story that gives plausibility to his present motives. Reginald King is the perfect villain.

Perfect Remains is solidly written and saved by its impressive cast of females - all with different strengths. The plot isn't great, nor is the dialogue, but a chilling villain, admirable ladies, and exceptional finale make it a thriller I enjoyed.

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