Her Sister’s Lie by Debbie Howells - book review: Perfectly plotted and tingling with tension

Her Sisters Lie by Debbie Howells
Her Sisters Lie by Debbie Howells

Hannah Roscoe hasn’t spoken to her estranged sister Nina for ten years after a shared secret wrenched their lives apart.

But now Nina has been found dead and the past, which Hannah thought had been buried forever, is set to explode back into the open with devastating results.

If you haven’t already thrilled and chilled to Debbie Howells’ searing psychological crime mysteries then losing yourself in Her Sister’s Lie – set in the shady glades of the New Forest in Hampshire – is the perfect place to start.

A former flying instructor, Howells reaches new heights of exquisitely controlled suspense and menacing mystery in this powerful exploration of two sisters whose seriously dysfunctional childhood has led them down the darkest of paths.

Written with her innate eloquence and keen eye for troubled souls – key components of her novels The Bones of You and The Death of Her – Howells has become a master of shifting perspectives, and this new thriller is a torrid and disturbing tale full of dangerous uncertainty, deadly revenge, and jaw-dropping twists and turns.

Music teacher Hannah Roscoe, who lives in a cottage tucked away in the New Forest, and her sister Nina Tyrell were once close, bonded together by their unhappy childhood with an abusive father. Nina was the elder sister by nine years, the generous one of the two girls who willingly took Hannah under her wing. ‘Sisters look out for each other,’ Nina would say, ‘keep each other’s secrets.’

But they have not been in touch for ten years and now 32-year-old Hannah, still reeling after her boyfriend walked out on her, has been told of her sister’s death. Nina’s body was found in the bedroom of her shabby, neglected terraced home in London and the police believe she fell after a bout of heavy drinking.

As the only next of kin, Hannah has been entrusted with the care of Nina’s 15-year-old moody, unresponsive son Abe… and memories of the appalling secret that drove the two sisters apart.

Bringing Abe into her home is not easy for Hannah and she finds his sullen attitude and ‘air of hostility’ difficult to handle. Hannah tries to be understanding, knowing that Abe is grieving for his mother, but she also knows that she wasn’t ‘cut out to raise children.’

And when the police say that Nina’s death wasn’t an accident, and sinister events take place at her cottage, Hannah is forced to confront the possibility that Abe might also be dangerous. How much does the boy know, and just how far is she prepared to go to protect her secret?

The interwoven lives of Hannah and Nina lie at the heart of this unsettling, psychologically astute story and it is the compelling, edgy and slow-drip unravelling of their lies and secrets that forms the vital, page-turning ingredient.

But readers beware, there is no soft underbelly to Howells’ blistering novel... just a relentless and unforgiving series of shocking revelations, including some damning letters, which expose the unreliability of the increasingly erratic Hannah’s narration, and blow the lid off the past in spectacular fashion.

This is an author totally at home in her crime genre as she carefully builds a picture of the two damaged sisters, plays mercilessly with our expectations, and then delivers a final knockout blow. Perfectly plotted and tingling with tension, Her Sister’s Lie is a mystery to intrigue, to enthral and to savour.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)