Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: "The Beauty of the End" by Debbie Howells

"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."

Noah Calaway remembers the minute he laid eyes on April Moon. (Even her name intoxicated him.) Even though she barely acknowledged his existence, and he had little if any hope of ever catching her eye, he knew he wanted April. She was mysterious, beautiful, quirky—and even rumored to be a bit of a witch, as she and two of her friends would meet on top of a hill and allegedly cast spells and do other magic. April was everything that studious Noah dreamed of.

Years pass, and April has moved in and out of Noah's life a number of times, in each instance affecting him tremendously. One time they were even engaged to be married when she canceled the wedding the day before it was to happen, leaving him with barely any explanation. Even though it has been some time since the two had been in touch, he is utterly shocked to receive a call from his former best friend Will, who tells Noah that April is accused of murdering a man, and following the incident took a drug overdose and now is in a comatose state from which she isn't expected to recover. While Noah remembers April was a very troubled young woman (and that trouble continued into adulthood), he is unable to reconcile the accusations leveled against April with the woman he knew.

A former lawyer who became a writer specializing in criminal psychology, Noah travels to the town where April lived, ostensibly to find out more information about what happened. He thinks he may represent April should criminal charges be filed against her, but more than anything, he wants to see this woman who meant so much to him, wants to understand all of the things she kept hidden from him. Yet the more he uncovers, he realizes that there are far more complicated—and apparently dangerous—issues at play here, which may have harmed April, and may even have followed her throughout her life.

The Beauty of the End juxtaposes Noah's investigation into what might have happened to April with the story of their relationship through the years, and all of the many instances in which April loved him yet pushed him away. The story isn't told in a linear fashion, so at times it was difficult to figure out at which point in time the story was occurring (despite the dates at the top of those chapters), but the story of their relationship was really compelling.

I definitely liked the story of Noah and April more than the mystery elements of the book. While there were a few more twists and turns than I expected (when I thought I figured out what happened—and I called part of it very quickly—I was frustrated, so I was glad to see Debbie Howells had a few more tricks up her sleeve), I felt that was more routine than the rest of the book.

As I've said before, I tend to be a little cynical when I read mysteries, so I would think those who don't read a lot of them will enjoy this even more than I did. I think Howells did a great job setting the story and ratcheting up the suspense, and although a few of the characters didn't transcend stereotypes, several characters were really fascinating, including April, of course. This is as much a lament on lost love as it is a mystery, so it has some depth to it.

NetGalley and Kensington provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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