Posted in Netgalley

The Vow by Debbie Howells.

#TakeTheVow #AvonBooksUk #NetGalley

Published: 15th October 2020

ISBN: 0008400164

Publisher: Avon Books U.K.

Several years ago I was in London for the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We were staying in Kensington and spent a day browsing the second hand shops for clothes but also for books. In a second hand bookshop I came across a proof copy of Debbie Howell’s first book. I read it that evening in the hotel, and finished it on the train home the next day. My friend was equally gripped. So, I was delighted to be granted the ARC copy of her latest novel The Vow on NetGalley.

This was a very quick read, mainly due to fact I struggled to put it down! Amy, a herbalist who lives near Brighton, is looking forward to her dream wedding. She never imagined she’d be lucky enough to get a second chance at love, but here she is living with the man she’s about to marry. Her daughter Jess has just gone to university so it’s just the two of them. Upstairs hangs the pink wedding dress she chose alongside a soft grey gown for her daughter. One morning, as she delivers an order to a patient, Amy is stopped by an old lady in the street who tells her to be careful because her fiancé isn’t what he seems. Slightly shaken Jess takes a call from her fiancé Matt, he seems distracted and tells her he’ll be late home because he’s out with a client. He says ‘take care, babe’ – something he never says. Jess is unsettled, but tries to carry on as normal. When Matt doesn’t return that night she goes to bed fully expecting him to be next to her as she wakes. However, his side of the bed is still empty. This is just the start of a nightmare scenario for Amy and her daughter Jess – where is Matt, who is he and do the secrets of the past always come back to haunt us?

This is an engaging thriller from Debbie Howells. I love the way she builds the kind, gentle character of Amy, to the point where we believe in her fairy tale wedding and relationship. When the narrator changes to a second character it allows us to re-evaluate everything we know. Is Amy telling us the truth or is she deluded and dangerous? I really wasn’t sure till the very end. I think her job as a herbalist also helps to make her trustworthy, because when someone is a healer we imagine them as empathic, kind and gentle – certainly not capable of murder. The other narrator also has a credible role. She works as a solicitor so the police might lean towards believing her version of events. I loved the opposing chapters, especially when we start to encounter a third, unnamed narrator. We have no idea which woman is speaking about the events of 1996, or whether it’s a third party. Howells drops enough red herrings to distract us – the WPC’s strangely selective answering machine, Amy’s friend who claims to have been propositioned by Matt at a party, or even one of the other women that have become Matt’s victims over the years.

The subject of coercive control has been utilised a lot in fiction of late and here it is only part of the story, but explained well nevertheless, The discussion of gaslighting was accurate and explains why we have a fairytale narrative about Matt from Amy whereas her daughter and her friends have seen a slightly different picture. The scene where he has convinced the normally vegan Amy to eat meat was particularly chilling. The ending, when it came, was slightly too sudden. I find this often happens when reading kindle books because if I don’t keep the word count displayed I don’t have any idea where I am in the book. On the whole this was a very enjoyable and rather addictive thriller that can easily be devoured greedily in a weekend.

Meet The Author

After self-publishing three women’s commercial fiction novels, Debbie wrote The Bones of You, her first psychological thriller. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and picked for the Richard and Judy book club. Three more have followed, The Beauty of The End, The Death of Her and Her Sister’s Lie, all published by Pan Macmillan


Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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