Book review: The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 Permalink

I read Debbie Howells’, The Bones of You last year and very much enjoyed the novel which unfolded poignantly from the viewpoint of a victim who dies before we meet her.

Howells follows up the success of her 2015 novel with The Beauty of the End… another bittersweet story of relationships and the secrets we keep from each other.

Book review: The Beauty of the End by Debbie HowellsThe Beauty of the End
by Debbie Howells
Published by Kensington
on July 26th 2016
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 149670598X, 9781496705983
Pages: 320

"I was fourteen when I fell in love with a goddess. . ."

So begins the testimony of Noah Calaway, an ex-lawyer with a sideline in armchair criminal psychology. Now living an aimless life in an inherited cottage in the English countryside, Noah is haunted by the memory of the beguiling young woman who left him at the altar sixteen years earlier.

Then one day he receives a troubling phone call. April, the woman he once loved, lies in a coma, the victim of an apparent overdose--and the lead suspect in a brutal murder. Deep in his bones, Noah believes that April is innocent. Then again, he also believed they would spend the rest of their lives together.

While Noah searches for evidence that will clear April's name, a teenager named Ella begins to sift through the secrets of her own painful family history. The same age as April was when Noah first met her, Ella harbors a revelation that could be the key to solving the murder. As the two stories converge, there are shocking consequences when at last, the truth emerges.

Or so everyone believes. . .

Noah’s infatuation with April started young. Too young obviously, to see the troubled girl beneath the beautiful and brave façade. His best friend Will tries to warn him, suggesting she’s really not the sort of girl who’d take an interest in someone like Noah.

There’s a brief high school flirtation before April disappears and then another (more passionate reunion) years later, before Noah again tracks her down.

The pair date, fall in love and get engaged. The troubled April of Noah’s youth appears from time to time, but he understands she needs to have her secrets. Until she leaves him on the eve of their wedding.

Fifteen years have passed when he next sees April and she’s unconscious in a hospital bed. And Noah seems to be the only one who believes the girl he once knew could not be guilty of murder as suspected. Even his former friend Will believes April capable of the violent crime.

I’ve read an inordinate amount of books featuring unlikeable protagonists lately. Thankfully – although Noah’s in some state of limbo…. Depressed, isolated and drinking more than is healthy – he’s a likeable guy. His relationship breakdowns with April and Will were possibly the catalysts, but Noah’s been unhappy with his life for some time. Purposeless if you like.

He’s a good guy though and feels compelled to help the woman he once thought a goddess. Noah suspects April’s been framed, so with her in a coma, he sets about clumsily investigating her life and the events in the lead up to the night of her alleged crime and attempted suicide.

Howells reveals April’s story (along with Noah’s) in multiple timeframes. It means we learn of their history only when we need to.

And in the midst of Noah and April’s story we meet a teenage girl called Ella who’s meeting with a therapist. Ella’s struggling with some secrets – ones she doesn’t feel she can share with anyone. It’s a tease of sorts and we readers wonder how Ella fits into the picture. Indeed, IF Ella fits into the picture.

Although this is essentially a novel of suspense, there are some deeper themes considered. Noah’s forced to wonder how well he really knew April and how he could have been blind to such a huge part of someone he thought he loved. He wasn’t necessarily self-absorbed, so was she expert in hiding it? Or did he need April to be perfect and blind himself her problems?

She’d loved me enough to agree to marry me, but not enough to share the reason for her sadness.

Only when my anger subsides does the storm inside my head start to calm. But in its aftermath, the landscape has changed. Surrounding me are doubts, that previously were absent, that have sprung out of nowhere. No longer am I sure about anyone. p 249

And readers are left to wonder if it’s really possible to shut ourselves off from others? Noah would have said he was content with his isolated life… complete with his writing and his booze. But is he…?

I’ve achieved nothing. Nor have I given anything of myself….

… as I properly see my home for what it is. Something neglected and unloved, the same way I’ve treated myself. P 252

And I wonder… do we all need someone, or something, to remind us what we’ve become or who we are or could have been?

The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells is published by Kensington Books and available from 26 July 2016.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

  • Ness
    July 27, 2016

    Sounds good. Been in a bit of a reading slump. Need something gripping.

  • Emma
    July 28, 2016

    Though I felt frustrated with The Bones of You because of the main character I also found it a real page turner so I’ll be reading this one I think – I feel like I can’t help myself.

    • Debbish
      July 28, 2016

      Ha yes Emma… I liked Noah. He was flawed and wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing but… had that sense of obligation to the girl and woman he’d once loved.

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