The Death of Her by Debbie Howells - book review: The perfect winter read

A young woman, brutally beaten and left for dead, is desperate to find her three-year-old daughter'¦ but police can find no evidence that the child even exists.
The Death of Her by Debbie HowellsThe Death of Her by Debbie Howells
The Death of Her by Debbie Howells

Debbie Howells, author of The Bones of You, a Richard and Judy Book Club selection, is back to tease and tantalise psycho thriller fans with a haunting, high-stakes mystery set amidst the rugged wilds of north Cornwall.

Death, darkness and deceit simmer beneath the surface of this intriguing story which features some classic unreliable narrators and a series of twists and turns that will leave readers bemused and bamboozled as the menace mounts and fragments from the past are slowly and inexorably pieced together.

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When police are called out to farmland in rural Cornwall, they discover a young woman who has been battered and left unconscious in a maize field. Airlifted to hospital, and with her life hanging in the balance, the woman’s identity is a mystery.

Three days later she comes round, but her memory is damaged. She knows that her name is Evie Sherman but no more, until shortly afterwards she remembers another name… Angel, her three-year-old daughter, and she is desperate to know where she is.

As the police circulate Evie’s photo, someone finally recognises her. Charlotte Harrison went to school with her and lost touch about ten years ago, but her name wasn’t Evie, it was Jen Russell.

Charlotte reveals that Jen Russell used to babysit a local girl, three-year-old Leah Danning, who went missing whilst in Evie’s care and has never been seen since. It was an event that changed lives and destroyed Leah’s family with older sister Casey, who suffered the most, dying only a few years ago.

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When the police search Evie’s home, there is no sign of Angel and, more disturbingly, there is no evidence that she ever lived there, forcing the police to question whether Evie is having some kind of breakdown.

But even from the darkest place she has ever known, Evie believes her daughter is alive. The police remain unconvinced, unaware that on the fringes of Evie’s life, there is someone else… someone hidden, watching her every move, and with their own agenda and their own twisted version of reality.

Only one police officer, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Bentley – a man struggling to cope with issues in his own life – seems to believe that Evie might just be telling the truth but, with a web of lies and inconsistencies in much of the evidence, can he track down the child that Evie is convinced is in danger?

Howells uses both words and mental pictures to portray a group of people caught up in a mystery that becomes increasingly deadly and dangerous. She writes with a sharp eye and an acute observation of the human mind which allows devastating emotional insights into her troubled – and troubling – characters.

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As readers question whose story we can trust, and how well we really know the leading players, the truth is slowly revealed and the action races towards its dramatic climax which holds a shocking twist in the tail.

With its majestic Cornish coastal landscape, enthralling sense of uncertainty, and fascinating mystery, The Death of Her is the perfect winter read.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)