Review of The Beauty of the End, by Debbie Howells

There are plots that seem to work better in some literary genres than in others, & revisiting a past relationship that didn’t work out seems to be one of them. Great in romantic fictions such as Jane Austen’s Persuasion or Jojo Moyes’s The Last Letter from Your Lover. But in crime fiction, I’ve been disappointed: Peter Swanson’s The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, Mark Edwards’ Because She Loves Me, & David Bell’s Somebody I Used to Know, all tanked. Perhaps it’s that the bereft lover has to play such an unappealing role, passively waiting for the beloved’s return steadfastly but without hope. (Granted, Captain Wentworth was anything but passive facing a French – or American – frigate captain, but as a wooer of Anne he hangs back till the very end.)

In The Beauty of the End Debbie Howells could give the narrator Noah Callaway a personal soundtrack: ‘Have You Heard about the Lonesome Loser?’ His parents (& the author) graced him with an awfully wet name for a hero (even he jokes bitterly about it) & it fits him – one of those unfortunates who go through life with his own little raincloud over his head. (His surname is also redolent of ‘callow’.) He allows himself to be repeatedly jerked around by April, the the object of his obsession, by Will, his BestFrenemy, & by Detective Sergeant Ryder (@ one point the author forgets his rank & promotes him to Detective Inspector tho’ he subsequently reverts). Noah even allows himself to be bullied by his landlady @ the BnB, even tho’ he is supposed to be both a lawyer & a moderately successful crime-fiction writer. (We are told that he abandoned practice @ the criminal defence bar stricken by remorse when a client he successfully defended proceeded to reoffend. Surely even the most junior defence barrister – not to mention detective story writer – knows that 9/10 of the defendants actually did it – the reason for defence is to make the Crown prove it.) You would think a trained barrister, not to mention crime fiction writer, would know how to stand up to an overbearing cop, not to mention a landlady.

Not only did April’s giving Noah the el dumpo nearly @ the altar break his heart; it also ruined the storybook wedding he was planning: he was ‘imagining a country house wedding with April in a beautiful dress & all our friends crowded around us. “We should check out some venues,” [he] told her. “Places get booked up.”’ Had I not requested this book from NetGalley, it would have hit the DNF pile here. The groom makes the wedding plans? Most us guys’ notion of wedding planning is going online @ Expedia to book two tickets to Vegas!

As the story unfolds the improbabilities multiply. April has apparently ODed & is in the ICU & Noah believes that one of the doctors is sneaking in & altering her medications to kill her – this doctor supposedly being a distinguished paediatric surgeon & having the nurses so in awe of him that they don’t question anything he does, even tho’ he is not April’s attending physician or qualified to be assigned to an ICU. There is no chance @ all of anything like that happening in any real ICU, where the nursing staff closely supervise & administer all medications – that’s why it’s an ICU. Not only do the nurses constantly monitor the pt’s medications & condition, but they review them daily as a team. There’s no possibility that a consultant in another speciality – such as paediatric surgery – could simply walk in & start administering something else that the pt’s proper doctor hadn’t ordered.

We are also supposed to believe that April practised as a grief therapist for bereaved mothers of newborns, tho’ we are not told how she acquired her qualifications, but after so many other unlikelihoods, why complain? Finally Noah uncovers the very much expected villain and the villain’s very much improbable plot. Oh, & there’s also another occasional narrator who talks in italics & we finally find out what she’s doing in the story. At the end, Noah finds a new role: it’s not as a wedding planner.

In future I’ll not request advanced review copies of NetGalley except when I’ve already read & liked books by that author. But tho’ I am grateful to NetGalley & to Kensington Books for this ARC, I thought the only thing beautiful about the end of this book was actually reaching the end.

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