Perfect Remains by Helen Sarah Fields
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For me, this book proved to be quite extraordinary. It put me into a turmoil. Several times, as I read the first few chapters, I was on the verge of giving up on it. So much of what I was reading seemed ridiculous to me. It was just not credible.
However, I persevered and I urge you, dear reader, to do the same. The second half of the book was a huge improvement on the first, and the final few chapters had a pace and tension that really gripped my attention.
By chapter three, I was struggling to justify a one-star rating. When I got to about six chapters from the end, I had convinced myself that it deserved three stars and I’d revised my rating again by the time I finished.
Without giving too much away, let me tell you a few things that almost made this my third DNF: Did Not Finish.
Some of the journey times are absurd. Soaking a body in accelerant, “marinating”, wouldn’t mean that all tissue would be destroyed in a fire even if the peat floor of the bothy were to burn. The large stones in the foundations of the walls shift in the fire, yet a small piece of fabric is perfectly preserved because it is under a rock and starved of oxygen.
When Dr King, the perpetrator, declared in chapter two so this is not a spoiler, drives from near to Braemar (one hour in a 4WD) to Edinburgh in just two hours, he stops to drink tepid tea from his flask. His reason is that he wants to avoid being spotted on CCTV in any of the cafes. There are lots of cafes near to the A9 which don’t have CCTV. However, the road is lined with ANPR cameras. Everybody’s movement is monitored.
How the Dr King manages to lug dead bodies around when he is nowhere near the peak of physical fitness, is beyond me. It gets worse. He manages to source a barrel full of sodium hydroxide in which he dissolves a body. He takes the full barrel, in his car and on a trolley, to a warehouse in Grantham. Furthermore, he doesn’t spill a drop. He must be a world champion power-lifter. He wouldn’t even be able to lift it on his own!
The introduction of Franco-Scot Detective Inspector Luc Callanach to the story is completely nuts! He arrives in Edinburgh from Interpol. His first briefing with all of the team focuses on his fear that they’ll take the piss out of his accent – and they do – aggressively. His DS falls out with him immediately. THEN he takes a DS and 2 DCs off their current workload because Grampian police think that some bones that they’ve found MIGHT belong to a missing person from Edinburgh because one of the police officers recognises the preserved fragment of scarf as matching a detail of the mispers description that he has read. How likely is that?
Luc doesn’t even check in with his boss to ask if it’s OK to take half the team away. When he gets there, having driven all the way to Braemar, which would take three hours and then a further one hour in a 4-wheel drive vehicle, the pathologist and two from forensics are there on site waiting for him – why? The charred bones are in Aberdeen, an hour and a half away. The roof of the bothie collapsed, so it must have taken them days to get to the bones and the piece of scarf.
The Edinburgh team find a B&B to stay in. The next day, Luc goes to Aberdeen and back, then decides that they’ll all go back to Edinburgh. That only takes two hours.
However, the forensic side of the story, especially the DNA tracing, is all very authentic.
From half way through, the story picks up both in pace and atmosphere. The characters and their relationships develop very well. Once the momentum built, I just couldn’t put it down.
I would recommend Perfect Remains to any of my friends who like crime fiction with the proviso that they should be prepared to grit their teeth as they wade through the first fifty or sixty pages.
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