From the acclaimed author of The Bones of You comes a haunting and heartbreaking new psychological thriller about a man thrust into the middle of a murder investigation, forced to confront the secrets of his ex-lover's past.
"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 overdoseand 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. . .
Set in a borderland where the past casts its shadow on the present, with a time-shifting narrative that will mesmerize and surprise, The Beauty of the End is both a masterpiece of suspense and a powerful rumination on lost love.
Advanced Praise for The Beauty of the End
“Debbie Howells is a terrific new talent—she paints with words and takes a scalpel to emotions.”—New York Times bestselling author Peter James
"A combination of lyrical writing and smart mystery. It's a winner.”—Sandra Block, author of The Girl Without a Name
Praise for The Bones of You
“One of those books that captivates you from the first page, holds tight and never lets go. I savored every word, character and psychological twist. Truly brilliant!”—Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Suspenseful and poignant debut . . . the increasingly tense storytelling and astute observations on mother-daughter relationships will keep readers turning the pages.”—Publishers Weekly
“Has been compared to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones . . . Indeed, Rosie's voice offers a dynamic narrative. Her disembodied perspective, tempered with other points of view—chiefly Kate’s—adds an unusual and haunting layer to the novel.”—Library Journal
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Debbie Howells is the author of The Bones of You, her debut thriller which sold internationally for six-figures in several countries. 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 DebbieHowells.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Beauty of the End
By Debbie Howells
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Debbie Howells
All rights reserved.
You think you know what it is to live. About those moments seized, battles fought, love yearned for. But you don't. Not really, until it's slipping away from you. When your body no longer listens to you, but becomes a trap, inside which you can't move, can't breathe, can't reach out. No one can hear you. Not even the one person who could help you ...
The memory is bittersweet, splinter sharp. A transitory flash of long, red hair damp from the mist; bone-chilling cold; the starkness of trees in winter. My heart quickening, as it always did. A girl I knew once, when the world was different, who filled my every waking thought, my dreams.
Nor can you know, we're like stars. At their brightest, most vibrant, before they die; a trail fading until the naked eye can't see it; the brilliant crescendo of a life that builds to silence.
Just as quickly it fades, a memory I've buried since I arrived here, years ago, when my Aunt Delilah died and left me her cottage. I'm questioning what's triggered it, glancing up from my desk just as the old black phone rings, past and present overlapping for a moment. It continues to ring, and though I'd rather not, I have to answer it.
Sliding my chair back, I get up and walk over to the windowsill. Feel behind the heaviness of the curtain to where it sits untouched. Unaware of the hope that flickers, like the flecks of dust stirred, caught in the dull glow of my reading light.
"Hello? Noah? Is that you?"
I pause, startled, as fifteen years fall away. The clipped, precise tone is instantly recognizable, making my skin prickle, as I'm jolted back to the present, because the phone isn't part of the memory that's consumed me.
There's another brief silence, before he speaks again, clearer this time. "It's Will."
I watch the moth that's taken refuge, camouflaged perfectly against the stone of the inglenook, as the fire I lit earlier sparks into life. My cottage has thick, stone walls that hold fast to the chill of winter.
He adds, "Thank Christ. I thought I'd got the wrong number."
Take the forest that's three-dimensional in the black depths of a still lake, each branch defined, every subtle shade perfectly mirrored, the sun looking out at you, so that if you stare for long enough, you forget. It's just a picture; hides the cold darkness that can close over you, that's silent.
Will and I were friends — once, a long time ago. But too much has happened, things that belong in the past.
As this, and much more, flashes through my head, common sense kicks in because I owe Will nothing. I'm about to put the phone down, when he says two words that alter everything.
Even now, my heart skips a beat at the sound of her name.
A moment, a few words, the single thought they provoke, can be devastating. Shatter what you've painstakingly constructed. Reveal who you really are.
"What about her?" I keep my voice neutral, my eyes fixing on the fireplace, on the moth's wings, twitching unevenly.
"There was an accident." He follows it up with, "She's in hospital. It's not looking good."
He speaks fast, impatient, his voice level, unemotional. I wonder if calling me is an inconvenience. And I'm sorry, of course I am. April and I were close, but it was a long time ago. Accidents happen every day. It's sad, but I've no idea why he's calling me.
There's only so long you can do this. Fake the pretense, dance to the piper's discordant tune. Hide an agonizing, unbearable truth that's been silent too long, that's hammering on the door, screaming, to be heard, for someone to listen.
"I'm not sure what happened, exactly. Look ..." He hesitates. "I only called you because it'll be all over the papers. A guy was murdered — in Musgrove, of all places. Knifed to death in his car, parked behind the pub. The North Star — can you believe that?" He pauses again. "The thing is ... Well, it looks as though she may have killed him."
I'm struggling to take in what he's saying, because the North Star was once our local hangout. There's a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then I dismiss the possibility outright, because some knowledge is instinctive and I know this, with a certainty that's blinding, absolute. Will's wrong. I watch the moth launch itself into flight, its wings beating a slow, undulating trail that circles the room twice, before battering itself at the closed window.
"That's impossible. She couldn't have."
Only no one comes, because no one knows, that you're bound and gagged, invisibly chained to a monster. There is no escape. There never can be, because wherever you go, he finds you. Won't let go of you.
"The police think there's evidence."
But as I know, it isn't always that simple. "They could have missed something."
And what about hope? That eternal optimism of the human mind, as vital as blood and lungs and your beating heart, which carries you through suffering and heartbreak? Because when hope goes, you have nothing.
My jaw tightens. "When did it happen?"
"Last night. Late, after the pub ..."
"Exactly," I flash back. "It's far too soon. They need to carry out forensic tests. They can't possibly know." I pause. "How did you find out?"
"They were seen together in the pub. The police found a woman's glove in his car, along with the murder weapon — and her phone. They traced it to her address, but by the time they got there, she'd taken an overdose." His voice is low. "They called an ambulance; then they called me. They must have found my number on her phone. Anyway, she's in the Princess Royal, near Tonbridge."
"Why's she there?" I ask stupidly.
"It's where she lives. Of course — I'm forgetting. You wouldn't know."
Suddenly your whole life is like a car crash, no brakes, gaining momentum, piling up behind you. Your mistakes, missed opportunities, all the time you've wasted, a twisted, rusting heap of scrap metal that can't be salvaged. Overwhelming you. Crushing you.
Even now, even though once he loved her, too, I hate that Will knows all this, how dispassionately he speaks, the condescension he barely conceals. That all these years later, he's still in touch with her, when I'm not.
"She's hardly going to want to see me."
He hesitates. "She's not exactly up to seeing anyone. She hasn't come round, mate. She's on life support. God only knows what she took."
The mate is automatic, a throwback to our friendship — and out of place. But as I listen, I'm shocked, trying to absorb what he's saying, unable to picture April as someone who isn't vital and beautiful and brilliantly alive.
"The police are looking for witnesses. People who were in the pub, security cameras ... If she's guilty, it won't be hard to prove," he says.
"If she is," I say pointedly.
"It's almost a foregone conclusion."
I used to think he was confident, not arrogant, but he really is so fucking arrogant. "Will. You know as well as I do she wouldn't hurt anyone. She couldn't."
You can play the part for so long. Wear the mask, say what people expect you to say. Fight for as long as there is air in your lungs. Fly if you have wings.
But you can never be free from someone who won't let you go.
He makes a sound, a staccato laugh shot with cynicism. "When you haven't seen her for all these years, how can you possibly say that?" He's a bastard, Will. Uses his surgeon's precision to dig the knife in, but he's forgetting, I knew her soul. I stay calm.
"The same way you know who you can trust."
He knows exactly what I'm saying. An uneasy silence falls between us.
"Fair enough." Will sounds dismissive. "I thought you should know, that's all."
"Fine. Hey, before you go, who was the guy?"
Will hesitates again. As he tells me, I watch the moth spiral into the flames.
* * *
It's surreal. My flashback, seconds before Will's call, telling me that April is suspected of murder. There's a tidal drift of willow seed across the fields as I step outside, but then it's a warm spring after the wettest winter in a decade. Pollen levels are high, willow seed prolific.
As I drive the half mile to the run-down garage that stocks a few basic groceries, I'm strangely removed from myself, the countryside I know so well suddenly unfamiliar under the onward, imperceptible flow of the willow seed, to the soundtrack of Will's words replaying in my head. I'm waiting for my brain to slot them into place, only it doesn't. Instead I'm trying to work out why, after years of silence between us, after everything, Will should be concerned that I know.
None of it makes sense — unless there's something he isn't telling me. I found that out about Will, too late. The half-truths; the lies by omission that were no less lies for being unspoken, set in a past that I can't change, that's woven into the essence of who I've become — like April is.
And whether I want him there or not, so is Will.
* * *
That evening, I'm still thinking, trying to decide what, if anything, I should do, aware of old scars that were long forgotten, newly inflamed by Will's call; by the thought of April, unconscious in a hospital bed, like the memory of an amputated limb.
I'm wondering if anyone's with her. Even though I knew her well, I never met her family. By the time we were together, it was as though she'd moved on, shedding them like a skin. There'd been a brother she didn't speak to. Her mother had died shortly after April left home; she'd never mentioned her father.
Not that I can help her. I'm in Devon, April's in Kent. Anyway, if Will's in her life, he'll have everything covered, which should fill me with relief — only Will made no attempt to disguise it. I heard it in his voice. He thinks she's guilty.
I stare through the window into the darkness, my feeble excuses reflecting back at me — how far away I live; that I left my London law firm four years ago; that, apart from the occasional day's work for Jed Luxton's small local practice, I'm ill prepared to defend a murder suspect; that my one suit is pushed to the back of my wardrobe and I'm not even sure it still fits — as a fleeting image comes to me of April driven to an extreme of desperation I can only guess at, plunging a knife into a faceless someone. An image so inconceivable that just as quickly it's gone.
For so long I'd believed she was my future. My sun, my stars, my April Moon, I told her once, carried away by the moment, by being alive, by the depth of my feelings for her.
Believing love was enough. That we were meant to be together. Never expecting it to change.CHAPTER 2
I was fourteen when I fell in love with a goddess. Goddesses have that effect, even on teenagers such as I was. Being plump or uncool has no bearing on the ability to fall in love — and my fate was sealed.
It was the beginning of my first term at Musgrove High. We'd moved to Musgrove at the start of the longest, hottest summer I could remember, when my father started a new job. The first I'd heard of it was when he proudly showed me the car he could now afford, a shiny, silver BMW 3 Series.
I'd climbed in excitedly, inhaling soft leather and a faint petrol smell. Things were changing, my father told me, as he got in and showed me how the seat adjusted. We were moving up. I didn't really understand what he meant. A job was a job as far as I could see, but I pretended to share his enthusiasm — until he told me we'd have to move.
The thought filled me with a horror I couldn't talk about, but the opinion of my fourteen-year-old self was of no consequence. In my small, sheltered, middle-class world, adults made decisions, children did as they were told. But that didn't stop me from dreading it.
I distinctly remember packing up my things — reluctantly, resentfully, overwhelmed by a need to hold on to the familiar, the childish, the outgrown. My mother's insistence, too, that this was a good time for clearing out clutter, whatever that meant, and that there was no sense paying the removal people to take what I didn't use. As if it wasn't enough dragging me away from my friends and my home, by the time she'd ruthlessly been through my books, my model car collection, my secret cache of action figures, half my childhood had been ripped away, too.
As we drove off from everything that defined me, my very identity seemed in question. I closed my ears to my parents' insistence that this was a new start for me. Swotty Noah Calaway, with his small, dark bedroom and nerdy friend next door was gone forever. I'd no idea who I was.
Musgrove was an uncomfortable four-hour drive away, four hours that I filled with imaginings of hostile new classmates and dread. My face turned to the open window, I fought off waves of nausea in the back of my father's new car, a car I'd come to hate as symbolic of unwanted change.
The first I saw of our new home was as we slowed down and turned up a wide, quiet road, and my father pulled up at the roadside. It wasn't unattractive, a red brick Victorian house surrounded by others that were similar, and after the modest, terraced street we'd left behind, it was big.
The first thing I did was run round the back to look at the garden, which disappointingly wasn't big at all but long and narrow, with a massive tree right at the end, which made up for it. But as I stared into its branches, so high they almost tangled with the clouds in the faintest hint of a breeze, I felt myself shiver.
What tortured me most was the thought of school. If only I could have changed my name — to reference someone important, perhaps, or a meaning that I could wear, like strength or slayer of dragons. But, I mean, Noah ... What were my parents thinking? My mother said that they had liked its biblical connotations and that it meant rest or comfort, which was nice, she told me. Nice and solid and reassuring, which was no good at all when it made you a figure of fun.
Over the years, I'd lost count of the number of times so-called friends turned up in their waterproofs on my doorstep — even when the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Crapping themselves laughing, while I was forced to endure yet another episode of ritual humiliation. I knew here it would be no different.
The first morning, I was so nervous I ate my breakfast then threw it all up. Inside, I was silently crying out for my parents to leave Musgrove and move back to our old house, for my father to give up the new car and return to his old job, to take me back to my old school because I knew from experience that the devil you knew was a whole lot easier to live with than the devil you didn't.
But in my heavy heart, I knew also it wasn't going to happen and instead somehow found myself keeping my eyes down and staying out of everyone's way, as I shuffled along the corridor to my classroom.
Being teenaged and awkward, with an odd name and old-fashioned hair to boot, my expectations were at an all-time low. Being a nerd further handicapped me. I was as incapable of not handing homework in as I was of keeping my arm from springing up whenever the teacher posed a question.
Today was no exception. It was my first math class here and short of nailing my hand to the desk, there was no stopping it.
"Yes? Your name, boy ..."
"Noah. Calaway. Sir," Pulling my arm down and waiting for the titter. I wasn't disappointed.
"Noah, eh? Don't think we've had one of those before," boomed Mr. Matthews. Completely unnecessarily, I remember thinking. "Well, speak up, boy. Better still, get up here and write it on the board."
How I hated that arm. I hated feeling everyone's eyes boring into me. I'm sure I detected a sadistic gleam in the teacher's eyes as he relished my discomfort. As I scrawled scratchily on the board, my hands clammy, my heart thumping in my chest, the piece of chalk snapped in two. I reached down to pick it up, completely mortified, but as I stood up again, something extraordinary happened.
The classroom door opened and a girl walked in. She was slender, with this way of walking, her head held high, her long, red hair falling in heavy waves down her back. I felt my jaw drop open as I stared at her.
"Boy!" roared Mr. Matthews, completely ignoring her. "In your own time ..."
Excerpted from The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells. Copyright © 2015 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seeing only what you want to see, and believing only what you want to believe means reality has passed you by. There are no such things as goddesses, just regular girls who have good days and bad, who are in fact, human. Poignant and unexpected, Howells tells a multilayered story of life, love, lies and secrets that leaves you guessing until the end. Looking back through the story from the end, it's a gnarled tree of details and events that have twisted and turned, so that even when you thought you were on a straightaway during the journey, you truly were not. Excellent. *I received an arc from NetGalley for an honest review
I can’t fault Howell on her writing. She has a natural flow and a lovely way with words. I have to say after the convoluted build-up the plot evolved and rose to a climax, only to fall a little flat towards the end though. Maybe it’s me, but it felt as if the first half of the book was going in a completely different direction to the second half. Noah has let his whole life be directed by his teenage obsession with April. The girl and woman he defines as a goddess. The truth is April is just a normal girl with a little more extra baggage than her peers. Throughout the book it becomes apparent that Noah lives in his own personal bubble. He only sees and hears what he wants to. Everything uncomfortable or that doesn’t fit inside his bubble counts as non-existent. In the end I think he is as much to blame as April. If he had only looked beyond his own needs and sense of comfort then perhaps her story could have been a different one. April is a victim of her incredibly difficult childhood. As is often the case, she is a girl and then woman who has always been viewed as nothing more than an object of sexual gratification. She has been used and abused by the men in her life. A lifetime cycle she finds hard to exit. A cycle her friends seem to be a part of. Her life becomes a pandora’s box of secrets. I like the way Howell writes, I just think in this case less would have perhaps been more. *I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.*
I have so many mixed feelings about this book. I remember that I really wanted to see how things would work out for the characters. So much so that I had a hard time putting it down. The whole time I was reading, I was also thinking about how nothing in the story really rang true to me. In the end, it was rather disappointing. I read this book several weeks before I actually had a chance to sit down and write my review. I hate to say it but I remembered very little of the book at first. It was really that forgettable. After reading over the summary and checking my notes, I did recall the story but I am still amazed that I was able to completely wipe the plot from my mind in just a few days. I didn't really care for any of the characters in the story which is a pretty big problem for me. In most cases, I really need to like at least one character in a book in order to connect with the story. I didn't understand Noah. It didn't make sense to me how he was able to always think so highly of April. Nobody is as perfect as he felt April was. April was probably the closest to be likable but we never got to hear her voice and she also made little sense to me. I wasn't even sure who Ella was or why I should care about her portions of the book. I thought the plot was incredibly far fetched. The story jumped back and forth in time which took away from the flow of the story at times. There were also random sections of the book that came from Ella's point of view that did not appear to be linked to the main plot in way. I just really had a hard time believing that otherwise intelligent individuals could be as clueless as everyone seemed to be in this story. On a more positive note, I found the book to be easy to read. I found that sections of the book were rather exciting and I did want to see how everything would work out. I was hoping for a big finish based on the title but felt that the ending fell flat. It was a book that I had no trouble getting through but I found myself thinking about all of the problems in the story more than the actual mystery. I can't recommend this book to others. I think that there are too many great options out there for anyone looking for a great mystery thriller. This was the first book by Debbie Howells that I have read and I would be willing to give her work another try in the future. I received a copy of this book from Kensington Books via NetGalley for the purpose of providing an honest review.
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells is a recommended psychological thriller/murder mystery. Noah Calaway is currently a writer, formerly a lawyer, living a quiet life in an inherited country cottage in Devon. When he gets a phone call from an estranged friend, Dr. Will Farrington, telling him that April Moon, a woman he loved since he was 14 years old and was going to marry at one time, is currently in a coma after a suicide attempt. She is also the lead suspect in the murder of her stepfather. Noah is certain that she is innocent. He rushes to Kent where April is hospitalized and decides to act as her (unofficial) lawyer while trying to detangle the various threads of what happened and why in April's life. At the same time we are privy to the discussions a teenage girl named Ella is having with her therapist. The two stories will eventually merge at the end, so while it seems like a pointless addition to the plot, it will eventually make sense. The story of Noah and April bounces around in time to cover when he knew her as a teen and later, when they were older. The chapters are dated to assist readers in keeping track of the time period of the events (1989, 1994, 1998, 2016 - but not in chronological order). Unknown to everyone, all the time periods are full of deceit and lies. The character of Noah is a wee bit pathetic in the present day as he reminisces about the April he first laid eyes on and loved years ago. It takes effort to accept that he'd take off to be by the side of someone in a coma that he hasn't seen or spoken to for 16 years, especially when she made it clear at that time that it was over. Actually, he was kind of a dolt as a teen and young adult. It is also a stretch to think he was actually a practicing lawyer, as he seems to have a difficult time asserting himself with anyone. Noah certainly has very little discernment in dealing with people. He does manage to figure out what happened, eventually. The Beauty of the End is well written and will certainly provide escapism for a summer vacation read. It isn't a bad novel by any means. It just wasn't a great mystery for me. Although the pacing is a little slow at times, once you get the gist of the story it is easy to read quickly. A 3.5 but I'm rounding down for this one. Howells' The Bones of You was better. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.
This book took a little time to get into, but after I did, I really enjoyed it. I really felt sorry for Noah and for that matter April, as well. It's a story of a man with wealth and indulgence using his friends their whole life without them knowing it until the end. It's a sad story, a beautiful story and a story that will rile you up when reading it. I can't really say a lot without giving out a lot of spoilers. Let's just say that Noah does a lot of growing up not necessarily during the book, but definitely at the end. While slow at first, I do still recommend the book, just give it a little time. Thanks Kensington Books and Net Galley for the free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.