Part of the Silence

Part of the Silence

by Debbie Howells


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When they find Evie Sherman left for dead in a maize field, the young woman has no recollection of who she is. But after three days in a hospital bed, she remembers two names: her own, and that of her three-year-old daughter, Angel.
The police can find no evidence of the girl’s existence. But Evie knows her daughter’s voice, her chameleon eyes, every precious hair on her head—and that Angel is in grave danger. So how can she be losing her mind?
As Evie’s grasp on reality slips away, she’s haunted by the same three-word warning: Trust no one. But who can’t she trust? The police? The doctors and nurses? Or the mysterious figure who’s been watching her, who knows all her secrets, and is ready to step out of the silence . . .
Praise for Debbie Howells and Her Novels
“A combination of lyrical writing and smart mystery. It's a winner.”
—Sandra Block on The Beauty of the End
“An intriguing dark psychological thriller—truly brilliant!” —Lisa Jackson on The Bones of You
“Has been compared to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Unusual and haunting.”
Library Journal on The Bones of You

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496714053
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,189,246
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

International bestselling novelist Debbie Howells is the author of The Bones of You, her debut thriller, and The Beauty of the End. While in the past she has been a flying instructor, the owner of a flower shop, and a student of psychology, she currently writes full-time. Debbie lives in West Sussex with her family, please visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

Part of the Silence

By Debbie Howells


Copyright © 2017 Debbie Howells
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0691-1



September 25 ...

I hear the helicopter just seconds before it looms overhead, its dark shape low enough that I can feel the downforce from its rotor blades, which whips up my hair, mixing it with the spray flying across the sand.

I turn to watch it, the sun briefly dazzling me, and then, just as quickly, it's gone. Retrieving my towel from where it's been blown across the beach, shaking the wet sand from it, I'm only idly curious. Around here, it's not uncommon to be buzzed by a low-flying helicopter on its way to rescue an inexperienced climber or an injured surfer. There are any number of beaches along this stretch of the north Cornish coastline that are not easily accessible by road. I turn my attention back to the waves just in time to see Rick catch a glassy barrel, then gracefully ride it to shore. After picking up my board, I go to join him.


It's not until a couple of days later that Rick tells me more.

"Oh yeah. I forgot to mention ... this girl was attacked. On one of the farms. Lower Farm, I think." His hair is wet from the shower; his eyes are bright after a morning surfing. "A couple of Jimbo's lot were running one morning. They found her in the middle of a field."

I'm all ears. Jimbo runs an overpriced boot camp for tourists and surfs with Rick when he can get away. The surfers' grapevine is notoriously reliable. It's all that time together, floating on their boards, as they wait for the perfect wave.

"What happened to her?" This is rural Cornwall. Nothing like this happens here.

He shrugs. "Not really sure. It was bad, though. At first, they thought she was dead."

"When did it happen?" I'm frowning, thinking of the low-flying helicopter, wondering if the timing is coincidence or if she was airlifted to a hospital.

"A couple of days ago. Maybe three?" he says vaguely.

I'm amazed it's taken this long for word to get around, the surfers' grapevine being what it is, or maybe Rick didn't think to mention it.

"Oh yeah," he adds. "Some of us are meeting at the Shack later. Around six. There may be some waves. You should come. With any luck, we could get an hour in before dark." In an unusual display of affection, he plants a kiss on the top of my head.

The Shack, a scruffy locals bar on one of the beaches a short drive from here, is okay. It sells Cornish beer and looks like nothing from the outside, but inside it is all bare wood, with surfboards hanging from the ceiling, sand walked inside coating the floor. It'll be full of Rick's friends and wannabe tourist types dressed to blend in, except you can spot them a mile off, because they don't.

If I'm going to drag myself out on a chilly evening, I prefer a bit of glamour — a cozy restaurant or a warm, dimly lit cocktail bar. "I'm good," I tell him, stifling a yawn. "I'll probably have an early night."

* * *

For the most part, Rick and I lead separate lives — we sometimes drink together, smoke a joint or two, have sex. We're not star-crossed lovers, but it's undemanding and convenient. Physical contact is like food, a basic human need. I should know. I've gone long spells without so much as the brush of a hand. And big, empty houses can be lonely.

After he goes out and I hear his Jeep drive away, I open a bottle of wine and start scrolling through Netflix, listening to the wind rattling the sash windows, knowing it'll whip up some waves, only they'll be windblown, messy ones, rather than the clean, head-height barrels Rick will be hoping for. But it won't faze him. Nothing does. No matter how many forecasts, swell charts, wind maps you follow, the ocean will always surprise you, he's told me many times.

* * *

"Why do you drink so much?" I'm still in my pajamas, nursing a hangover, when Rick picks up the empty wine bottle from last night. By the time he got home, I'd finished it, then started on another before falling asleep on the sofa.

"I really don't." I'm irritable, not in the mood for one of his holier-than-thou lectures on how my body is a temple. I know my body better than he does. "You probably had just as much and drove home, which is far worse."

"Two pints," he says briefly. "You do this every night. And it's usually more. We both know that. By the time you know you've fucked up your liver, it'll be too late."

"Yeah, yeah ..." I get up to go back upstairs, because I've heard it all before. It's not like Rick to be confrontational, but this time he grabs my arm.

"You take it for granted, don't you?" His eyes glitter angrily. "Always so bloody sure of yourself. Do you have any idea how lucky you are?"

I stare just as angrily back at him, wondering where this has come from. "It's a few glasses of wine, Rick. What the fuck's wrong with you?"

But he doesn't answer, just lets go of me, shakes his head as he walks away.

I don't like being spoken to like that, especially not by Rick. Even less do I like the spike of truth in his words. But better a shorter life lived to the full than the dragged-out, mundane ones so many people cling to for as long as they can. Whether you live twenty years or sixty, unless you save the planet or cure cancer, what does it actually matter?

Upstairs, I pull on jeans and a hoodie, glance out of the window to see Rick stride across the yard, then stand with his back to the house, gazing out across the bay. I've no idea what's eating him, but clearly something is. After taking a deep breath, I go outside to join him.

"Not surfing today?" As I catch up to him, my tone is light, conciliatory, but he's still rigid as I slip my arm through his.

He shrugs. "Maybe later."

"Look, is something wrong?" I remove my arm, turning to face him. "Because you're being shitty, Rick."

He's silent for a moment, still looking out to sea; then he turns to face me. "You really want to know?"

As I nod, I'm aware of an unpleasant prickling sensation.

"I don't get you. All this time we've been together, and you spend every day in that house, not really doing anything. You don't work. You were going to paint, but all you do is make excuses not to do anything. Don't you have dreams? Places you want to see? People in your life?"

"Of course I do," I say quietly, trying to contain the seething anger welling up inside me. I know exactly what I want from life. I don't have to share it with him.

"We all think we have forever." His jaw set, he's on a roll. "Only none of us do. We live in the most beautiful part of this country, where nothing bad happens, and then a woman gets attacked on our doorstep. Nearly dies. Doesn't it make you think it could happen to anyone? Like you, even?"

"I'm not going to walk around thinking I'm in danger," I tell him. What's the matter with him? "Things happen all the time, Rick. Bad things. People fuck up, even in pretty places like Cornwall. It's no different from anywhere else."

When he looks at me, there's an expression of disgust on his face. "You know what? That's it, in a nutshell. You don't care. You're not shocked or even sad it's happened. You just accept it. And most people are just like you. Except I'm not." He's silent for a moment. "I don't know —" He breaks off. When he looks at me, I can't fathom the expression in his eyes.

But I've had more than enough. "You know what, Rick? I'm going for a walk."

I walk away from him, through the gate, and onto the coast path, in the cool air, hugging my arms around me, trying to keep warm; in my head continuing my conversation with Rick — angrily. It's a couple of hours later when I get back to the house, less angry, the absence of Rick's Jeep filling me with relief.

In the kitchen I fill the kettle and turn on the radio. The brightness of the sun through the large window belies the temperature outside. I sit at the kitchen table and turn on my laptop. With a mug of strong tea before me and classical music playing in the background, I start searching for a local supplier of artists' materials. Rick was right about one thing: I've been making excuses not to paint.

After finding what I'm looking for, I'm jotting down the address when the radio news comes on. I'm only half listening until one of the items makes my ears prick up.

Police are looking for information about a woman who was found injured four days ago. The woman was discovered unconscious on farmland in a remote part of north Cornwall. Police are keen to establish who may have seen her any time during the twenty-fourth of September. They are also seeking the whereabouts of her three-year-old daughter. Anyone with in formation about her should contact Devon and Cornwall police. More details are available on our Web site.

I sit there in silence. The fact that a local mugging has made national news somehow gives it more gravity. I check their Web site, and there it is. The police are seeking information about the woman, known as Evie Sherman, who suffered severe head injuries after a brutal attack that left her unconscious on farmland in north Cornwall. They are also investigating the whereabouts of her three-year-old daughter.

Underneath, there's a photograph of the woman. It's hard to tell how old she is. Her face is an unhealthy gray, mottled with red-black bruising, and there's a dazed expression in her eyes. It looks as though she's in a hospital bed. Studying her more closely, I frown. There's something familiar about her.

I click on the Devon and Cornwall police's Facebook page. As I scroll down, there are several recent posts of a more trivial nature — about a gun amnesty, a spate of burglaries, and a road traffic accident, none of which hold my interest — then farther down, the same photo. The brief paragraph mentions how she was airlifted to the hospital after being found unconscious. It gives her name again and asks anyone who recognizes her to contact Truro police. Then, farther down, there's another photo.

Deep in thought, I study it, then hunt around for my phone. The police are wrong. Her name isn't Evie. It's Jen.


September 28 ...

"Babe? There's someone at the door. Can you get it?"

Even if he hears me above the sound of the guitar he's playing, Rick doesn't reply. I feel a flash of irritation, because I've just got out of the shower, wish I could be as oblivious, as self-absorbed, when someone asks me to do something. The doorbell rings again, and after quickly pulling on some clothes, I run downstairs to answer it.


The woman on the doorstep looks puzzled. She's probably one of those tourists who think they can walk up to any old place just because it's Cornwall and they think they've seen it on television.

"Are you Charlotte Harrison?" she asks.

Oh God. How does this woman know me? "I'm sorry. ..." I turn away and start to close the door, but something's in the way. When I look down, it's her foot. When I look up again, she's holding out a police badge.

"Detective Constable Abbie Rose. Please don't close the door."

"Why didn't you say? I'd completely forgotten the police were coming here." I swing the door open and let her in.

I lead her through the hallway into the open-plan living area, noticing as she looks around at the white-painted Cornish stone walls and the views, which, even after a year here, still take my breath away. The house is perched above Epphaven Cove, one of Cornwall's best-kept secrets, until a national paper ran a feature and ruined it.

She walks over to the north-facing window. Not many people come here, but I enjoy watching their reactions when they see the view for the first time. As she turns around, she's glancing at the paintings, the furniture, which might look incongruous to the uneducated eye, but are utterly wondrous to those who know. I wonder if Abbie Rose knows what she's looking at.

"Do you live here alone?"

"Some of the time." A guitar wail comes from a distant corner of the house. "That's Rick. He follows the waves." He does, literally, follow them around the globe, coming and going like the swallows under the eaves, only less predictably.

"Won't you sit down?" I gesture toward the cerise velvet sofa. Pink's my favorite color, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I have a pink bathroom, pink Jimmy Choos, a big American fridge full of pink champagne.

"Thank you." She perches on the edge of the sofa, then reaches into her bag for a notebook.

I sit in the oversized armchair near the window. "How can I help, Detective Constable?"

"I understand you recognized the woman who was attacked, from the photo on our Facebook page."

"Yes. With all that bruising, it's hard to be completely sure, of course, but I think so...."

"When you called the station yesterday, you said you knew her as Jen Russell. Is that right?"

"Yes. We were at school together."

"Which school?"

"Padstow College." I watch her write it down. "Have you found her child?" Since the police posted her details on Facebook, there's been the typical public outpouring of condolence and shared grief — and a few haters. I've checked once or twice, curious to see who else crawled out of the woodwork.

"Not yet." Abbie Rose isn't giving much away. "How well did you know her?"

"We were in the same year," I tell her. "We weren't close friends. We moved in different circles that overlapped from time to time. ..." Cliques is more accurate. The usual bitchy gangs of girls who shagged each other's boyfriends behind their backs. That's how I remember it.

"When was the last time you saw each other?"

There's a question. It's been a long time. Too long or not long enough? But then, we're not the same people anymore. "I suppose ..." I frown, trying to remember, as someone thunders down the stairs, then outside, and slams the door noisily. I glance outside. "Rick," I say, by way of explanation. "There's an offshore wind. Good for waves, if you catch the tide at the right time. There's a brief window of opportunity. At high tide, the beach here is completely submerged." As I'm speaking, Rick jogs across the lawn, surfboard under one arm, the top half of his wet suit unzipped and flapping behind him. "Do you surf, Detective Constable?"

She shakes her head.

"I'm sorry." I pause. "You were asking me about Jen. I suppose we last saw each other about ten years ago. Someone's twenty-first ... I can't remember who."

"So that would have been after Leah Danning disappeared?"

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that already the police have linked Jen's name to what happened. Since before I left Cornwall, all those years ago, it's the first time I've heard Leah's name mentioned. Three-year-old Leah, whom Jen used to babysit — until one day, in broad daylight, she disappeared. It rocked everyone around here, more so because, as far as I know, the police never discovered what happened to her.


"It was definitely after." I hesitate. "Do you think this is connected to what happened to Leah?"

Abbie Rose gives nothing away. "We've no idea. But at this stage, we have to look at everything."

"Of course." But it still surprises me. It must be fifteen years since Leah disappeared. "Poor Jen. I don't know how you ever get over that. I mean, losing someone's child when they're in your care ... You didn't have to know her well to see the change in her after. And now her own daughter is missing. ..." I imagine guilt layered upon guilt, at the same time as I wonder how Jen's coping with what must be unbearable.

Abbie Rose doesn't comment. "And you haven't seen her since then?"

"Like I said, the last time we saw each other was at that party." I get up and walk over to the window. On the beach, I can just about make out clean, barrelling waves and, floating beyond them, the lone dot that must be Rick.

"Do you remember much about that time? When Leah disappeared?"

"God. It's not something anyone could forget in a hurry. It was awful." I watch Rick catch a wave, wishing I could surf as well as he can. "No one could believe a child would just disappear. It was like a black cloud over everything — it changed our lives. Everyone's parents became overprotective. And people gossiped. ... Eventually, it died down, but at the time, it was like the world had ended." Turning to face her, I add, "Sorry, Detective Constable. I don't mean to sound indifferent. It was terrible. It destroyed Leah's family. Did you know that?"

"Did you know them, Charlotte?" Abbie Rose's eyes linger on me.

"Not when it happened." I'm not sure what to say, wondering what it will do to Jen right now to have the police asking about another missing child, particularly one who was never found. "I knew of them. I was good friends with Leah's older sister for a while, but that wasn't until later."

"Do you know what happened to them?"


Excerpted from Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells. Copyright © 2017 Debbie Howells. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Part of the Silence 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What happens when your world falls apart and you lose your memories? Worst yet, you lose your daughter and no one believes she really existed. This is a well-to-do story that keeps you guessing at the truth. Who is trustworthy among all these strangers? Lots of plot twists and emotional eddies. Hard to put down. The biggest twist is at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this thriller! There were a few inconsistencies, however. For example, the first page of one chapter stated "she went to the cabinet and took out the wineglasses." The next page said, " she then took 2 wineglasses out of the cabinet." In one chapter the lead character told Jack how her cat had gone missing. Later, Jack acted like he knew nothing about it. BUT, read it anyway! A great mystery!
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells is a highly recommended psychological thriller. Evie Sherman was found beaten and left for dead in a field. Now that she has come out of her coma, she is frantic because her three-year-old daughter, Angel, is missing and Evie knows she is in danger. When Charlotte Harrison sees the picture of Evie, she is sure she knows her, but by a different name, Jen Russell, from years ago when they were in school together. Charlotte contacts the police and, after identifying Evie as Jen, she begins working with DC Abbie Rose to try to help Evie/Jen. No other friends have come forth to identify her or confirm the existence of Angel. To complicate things further, Evie's memory is gone with the exception of her daughter. The problem is that the police can't find any trace of her daughter existence. Because Evie has memory loss, the mystery unfolds through the point of view of Charlotte and Jack, an older police officer who enters the story later, along with diary-like entries from a girl named Casey. You get the impression almost immediately that Charlotte is likely an unreliable narrator, but she does seem to be helping in her own selfish way and Abbie Rose continues to call her for help or to visit Evie. There was a previous child who mysteriously disappeared fifteen years ago when Evie/Jen was watching her. Excellent writing combined with unreliable characters and mysteries from the present and the past combined together to make this a compelling thriller. It's hard to figure out who is telling the truth. Although I had my suspicions early on, I thought the plot and the twists in the narrative were very well done. It's always exciting to read a well-written mystery that keeps you guessing and flows smoothly along, even when switching narrators. The characters are well-developed in the context of the mystery and make the final twist even more surprising, but completely logical. Evie/Jen seems so muddled and fragile. Jack is a great character. Abbey Rose isn't as well developed, but you get the strong impression that there is a whole lot more she's thinking about than she reveals. Charlotte is an enigma. She seems so self-centered and a bit aimless, but she does help Evie/Jen. And why does no one else seem to know Evie/Jen or Angel? Debbie Howells gives us another wonderful thriller with Part of the Silence. This is a great choice for a summer vacation read; it is engaging and well-written. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington Publishing.