Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells

41BJHcaW-KL.SX316Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells will be released for publication on 6/27/17.

Howells’s debut novel is set in present day Cornwall, in a small coastal town. Part of the Silence is an atmospheric suspense novel, with many of the major scenes in the story occurring in or around the woods. The story unfolds in alternating points of view from different main characters, as well as flashbacks from Casey,  a character who doesn’t show up in many of the present day scenes. The way Casey is introduced and weaved into the story begs the questions: “Where is Casey now?” and “What became of her?” The questions regarding Casey certainly enhances the mystery of the story.

Howell really set a high mark with rich character development in her first novel. Readers will feel like they know some of the main characters very well; Jack, Charlotte, Jen/Evie, and Casey.

Jen, now known as Evie, was brutally assaulted and left for dead in a cornfield. She has no memory of what happened, but eventually remembers her name as Evie and the name, Angel, her three-year-old daughter. However, there is no sign of Angel, as well as no evidence Evie ever had a child – no birth records, no children’s clothing or toys at the house, and no one but Evie who claims to have seen a child. Even Nick, her ex-boyfriend, thinks she has lost her mind because he doesn’t know a thing about a child. Jen/Evie was babysitting three-year-old Leah Danning 15 years prior when Leah was abducted. Is Jen imagining she had a daughter but thinking of Leah, from all those years ago? Even in her fragile state of mind, Jen/Evie knows without a doubt that she has a three-year-old daughter. But where is she? And why does it seem like she never existed?

Jack is a great detective, despite being preoccupied with grief from the loss of his fifteen-year-old son two years prior and, more recently, being left by his wife. Jack is the type of detective who doesn’t leave work at work; always on the job and observant of his surroundings.

Charlotte becomes involved with Jen/Evie when she realizes that Jen was her schoolmate long ago. She offers to help Detective Constable Abbie Rose keep an eye on Jen and serve as a friend, hoping it might spark Jen’s memory. Charlotte has a live-in, surfer boyfriend named Rick and their relationship is not too stable.

As mentioned, Casey’s character is revealed in flashbacks weaved into the story. She is the older sister of Leah Danning, who went missing fifteen years ago. Casey’s life has always been tough, beginning when she was sexually assaulted as a child. She surrounded herself with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and bad relationships, and all the while she was jealous of people like Jen, with her easy childhood and movie-star looks.

Readers may wonder why Charlotte becomes so involved with Jen/Evie’s situation and offers to help, being a mere acquaintance from school so many years ago. Is she feeling guilty about something? Does she have something to do with three-year-old Leah’s disappearance fifteen years ago? And what about her surfer boyfriend, Rick, who comes and goes like the swell of the waves he surfs. Does he have something to hide?

Someone knows what happened to Leah and to Jen/Evie’s daughter, Angel, providing there really was a daughter who was abducted at the time of Jen/Evie’s attack. Is it Casey? Xander? Nick? Miller? Charlotte? Jack? The story allows for many possible suspects to keep readers guessing until the end.

The plot doesn’t move along as quickly as most psychological suspense novels. It wasn’t a “read in one sitting” novel for me, but it did keep my interest until the end. I was blind-sighted by the twist and turn of events in the final chapters. Fans of psychological suspense and unreliable narrators will love this story.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the early review copy.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall will be published February 9, 2016. This is a beautiful book with a fabulous, intriguing cover.

Black Rabbit Hall is a wonderful debut novel for Eve Chase. Fans of Kate Morton would likely be fans of Black Rabbit Hall, with its mysterious corridors and hidden family secrets. Part of the story takes place in the 1960’s when Amber Alton is a teenager spending summers at Black Rabbit Hall, her family’s old estate home in Cornwall, outside of London. Amber, her twin brother Toby, younger brother Barney, and younger sister Kitty pay no attention to time while at Black Rabbit Hall, especially since none of the clocks read the same. All they know is that they are happy and well-loved by their mother and father, and Peggy, the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook. Not much happens at Black Rabbit Hall, which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of London. Then, unfathomable tragedy occurs and everything about their carefree days changes drastically.

Other portions of the novel follow Lorna, a thirty-two year old school teacher who is engaged to marry Jon. Lorna and her late mother, who has just recently died in a freak accident have visited Black Rabbit Hall in the past, though Lorna doesn’t remember much about when or why. There are pictures of them at the front gate when Lorna was a child. Lorna feels drawn to the crumbling estate and wishes to be married on the property, despite her fiance’s wishes and best intentions. The more time Lorna spends at Black Rabbit Hall, the stronger the connection becomes.

Though there are flowers growing up from the floorboards, bitter drafts from creaky windows, and rooms filled with vintage pieces of the Alton’s lives, Lorna is determined to stay in the house and find out what happened to the first Mrs. Alton and the four children from the photographs. The current, elderly but stately, Mrs. Alton inhabits a small wing of the estate, along with her servant and caregiver, Dill. There are vivid descriptions of the house, the beach, and the nearby woods where young Toby spends his days, building a tree house and hiding out from his stepmother. Eve Chase does a wonderful job of creating characters who really come to life in the novel. I was humbled and saddened by the hardships that Amber and her siblings had to endure at such a young age. The writing is beautiful and the story seamless, even though the plot switches back and forth between 3 decades.

This is not a ghost story, so do not be turned away if, like me, you do not like supernatural or fantasy fiction. It is, however, a story about family, love, and long buried secrets which most always are unearthed. While reading the final paragraph describing the arrival of one of the Alton siblings, I had chills and tears streaming down my face. Now that means this a beautiful story. Not many books cause me to have chills.

So, what are you waiting for? Read it!