In case you hadn’t heard, this is a Rachel Howzell Hall stan platform now! Having read a few of her books and showcased her previous work on our site, we’re pumped for her new book, ‘What Never Happened’, out August 1st. Perfect for fans of ‘The Watcher’ and ‘Sharp Objects’, this gothic thriller is being described as Rachel’s best work yet.
Colette has just relocated to her Catalina Island home where, twenty years before, she was the sole survivor of a home invasion. All “Coco” wants is to see her aunt, escape her ex, and get back to her craft―writing obituaries. Thankfully, her college best friend owns the local paper and has a job to keep her busy, considering the number of elderly people dying on the island. But as she investigates these deaths, she quickly realizes there’s a trend… and it’s not natural. Then, Coco receives a sinister threat in the mail: her own obituary. As she connects the dots between a serial killer’s crimes and her own family tragedy, she fears that the secrets on Catalina Island might be too deep to survive. Because whoever is watching her is hell-bent on finally putting her past to rest.
Fellow NYT Bestselling author Meg Gardiner sums up this wild ride of a book, saying “What Never Happened blends blade-sharp writing and indelible characters with a suspenseful story that pulls you in and won’t let go, as a seeming paradise grows dark with storms, suspicion, and murder. I couldn’t put it down!”
Now that we have your attention, read on for an excerpt from ‘What Never Happened’ and be sure to get your copy.
Sunday, March 15, 2020
During that last summer trip here with my family, we took a guided tour around the island. Our tour guide Fran noticed that Langston ate tangerines throughout the trip, and she found a bag to carry his peels. At one point, she told us about the goats of Catalina—how the missionaries had brought them over from the mainland to the native Gabrielino Indians in 1827, how the goat population thrived and ate everything it could, and how the goats practically obliterated all ground cover that kept the plants and trees viable, destroying the land so much that in 1990, there’d been a great goat hunt that aimed to kill 3,000 goats. “Those goats stripped the land,” she said, “and threatened native species, like the now-endangered Catalina Fox.”
As we stood near the botanical gardens, Langston spit a tangerine seed into the dirt. Fran lunged for that seed and slipped it into the bag. “We can’t have outsiders propagating,” she explained. “See: there are no citrus trees on Santa Catalina. If one were to grow, what would happen? It would wreck the ecosystem of the entire island. Just like the other outsider trees—eucalyptus and palm trees. We’d have to kill that tree, no matter how much we all love fresh orange juice. It would be for the best. We must do everything we can to protect this very fragile, very special place.”
That’s why the deaths of these women bother me.
People who go crazy about an orange seed falling into the earth are totally ignoring the possibility that there’s a “bad seed” killing the island’s senior citizens. Or the possibility that a “concerned” citizen may be killing people that they believe are “bad seeds.”
Right now, Yesenia, Paula’s friend Loretta, and I are the only ones concerned about these deaths. Unless this is how they roll on Santa Catalina. I am an outsider after all.
The rain has stopped, and the thick, still air is so gray that the sea cannot be separated from the sky. The mayor announced during the press conference that ferry service will be limited to twice a day—and only for essential trips like doctor’s appointments.
I text Andrea Liszl, the literary agent, and she immediately responds. Oh that’s too bad
Let’s Skype then
I really want to talk to you Colette
True crime is in and you have one of the most compelling stories out there
And my partners are starting to question since we agreed to move forward
Ugh. Micah. And I should’ve… so many things. Like having him arrested for impersonating me. Ah, but love, effing love.
Skype is a great idea, I text Andrea.
Maybe together you can help me outline
I think that’s my biggest obstacle
Where to start!
At home, glass from the back door window crunches beneath my sneaker soles. Where has Handy Andy gone? He replaced one door and left the worst for last. My irritation quickly ebbs because Aunt Gwen has baked a lemon pound cake and it’s sitting on the countertop, so golden, so perfect. There’s a note written on a piece of paper near the cake plate.
Gone to dinner with friends.
My phone vibrates, not with a text from Andrea but from Micah.
SIGN. THE. PAPERS.
GIVE. ME. MY. RING!!!
I cut a thick wedge of cake and grab a bottle of Topo Chico from the fridge. I guzzle that bottle and grab another. The water sluices through my belly and spreads into my veins. Between that and the buttery cake, my earlier irritation dies. I trudge to the living room with my snack. The Family Feud theme song plays from the television, but Gwen isn’t sitting in her armchair.
I eat my slice of still-warm pound cake and sip sparkling mineral water in between bites.
Name something snowmen might have nightmares about.
Dogs peeing on them.
The cake and water settle my mind, and all of me feels as floppy as a beach hat.
And yet… and yet…
Dr. Tamaguchi’s voicemail tells me to leave a message. After the beep, I talk, I don’t ask for her to call me back because I just want to… talk. About Gwen. About the house. About Micah. About my heart.
Name something that won’t let Colette find peace.
A busted-up house.
A murderer left uncaught.
Down in my bedroom, I paw through the folder of Important Stuff and find that big manila envelope that contains divorce papers.
If he’s asking for the papers, he must not know yet…
Name a question a wife asks her soon to be ex-husband, who, legally, isn’t her husband?
Why did you leave?
Did you ever love me?
How did you come to hate me so hard?
Is it because I stayed with you despite your envious, mean spirit? Is it because I stayed after you hit me that one time and I forgave you and explained it away because you’d been frustrated, and I didn’t want to be alone, that I was terrified of being alone? Is it because you knew, somehow, that I fantasized about poisoning you—I knew how to and came so close to doing, but I didn’t do it and that was one time, and I never had that fantasy again and instead broke your nose with a coffee mug?
Therapy over the last twenty years—and especially the last year—still hasn’t led me to remember Micah’s inciting comment. I remember snapping and swinging the coffee mug in my hand. I don’t remember anything after that. That mug connecting to Micah’s face. The crack of his nose beneath the porcelain. What Micah described as my glee at having broken his nose. No one believed that I’d disassociated in that act of violence—zoned out as Gwen would describe it—not even my own attorney. But no one could prove that I was faking it, either.
During a session last year, Dr. Tamaguchi reminded me that my trauma from 2001 influenced my life with Micah. “Today, right now,” she said, “how do you feel about your relationship with your husband?”
That afternoon, I ripped twenty sheets of tissue as I talked. “He was so kind,” I told her, “and he laughed easily. He wants me to stay in therapy, and he wants me to talk it all out. He used to go with me every year to put flowers on my family’s graves, and… and…
“He was talented, and he… didn’t know how to give up. He refused to give up on me, on us, and… and.. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted people to see his talent, to reign in his energy and direct it onto the screen.”
After my tribute, Dr. Tamaguchi sighed, then said, “If this is gonna work, Colette, if the judge is going to believe you, you gotta tell the truth.”
Stunned into silence, I could only shake my head and wonder… How did she know?
Because what is the truth? That I’m not sorry for hurting Micah even if I can’t remember all that he said that night. And I’ll never be sorry for hurting Micah because he said something so… extreme that I lost my mind.
He’d always been spoiled and egocentric, always demanding that I checked with him first on groceries, birth control, streaming options… On more than on occasion, he spat that I sucked at life, spat “your family really did fuck you up.”
I was always surprised that I never found myself either holding a steak knife to his throat or waking up to with my apartment on fire… with me in it.
My life with Micah was a Sisyphean triumph, a patina of lies, fear and lust stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster.
It’s over now.
We’re over now… not that I ever trusted us to start, at least before the eyes of California.
My hands shake and the divorce papers vibrate like a hummingbird’s wings. My signature at each “X” is just as manic.
There. Done. Happy?
As for the unicorn…
Moe isn’t on my pillow.
I look in the space between the wall and the mattress.
She’s not there, either.
I cock my head to hear…
Though I’m far away, I can tell that it’s the stand-up mixer.
Is Gwen back from dinner and baking another cake?
I swipe at my cheeks. When did I start crying?
Pans and silverware crash to the kitchen floor.
“Gwen?” I shout. “Everything okay?”
I dash up the stairs.
Gwen’s bedroom door is closed.
I open that door.
No one’s there.
I creep into Gwen’s room.
Name something that might make you think your house is haunted.
Somewhere outside this bedroom, the floorboards creak.
Oh, shit, that would make me think my house was haunted.
In the kitchen, the stand-up mixer growls.
Oh, shit, and that, too.
All of me feels twisty and tangled and so very tired.
My gaze skips around Gwen’s bedroom. Where is that fireplace poker?
Perfume atomizers… Cigarette cases… Stereo speakers… An emerald brooch and matching clip-on earrings…
I grab an antique-looking letter opener that used to be mine from the nightstand.
My phone… is downstairs somewhere.
I take a deep breath and tiptoe to the door.
My footsteps sound like cannon fire.
Applause—that’s right. Family Feud is still on.
That buttery-vanilla scent of Gwen’s pound cake greets me steps away from the kitchen. And then, I smell wine. I see flour first, though. and that’s because flour has drifted into the small entryway. Once I step into the kitchen, I see that flour is now all over the tile floor. The mixer is mixing but there’s nothing in its bowl. Spoons and forks lay against the floor, but knives line the countertop. The pound cake that Gwen baked is now smeared against the cabinets. Red wine drips from the stovetop.
I wince and my legs go damp, and I crumple against the doorway, and for a moment, I can’t see any of this because of the tears in my eyes.
I open my eyes as my heart lurches in my chest.
The kitchen door is… locked.
I stumble to the front door.
The chain slide isn’t on. The deadbolt is unlocked
Did I not lock the door? Did I miss sliding on the chain?
I whirl in place, trapped between the kitchen door and front door.
Did she do this?
That lady’s got quick hands. That’s what Deputy Santos said this morning. He also mentioned that she asked him about eviction and trespassing laws. “Unwanted tenants,” she said.
Is Gwen really trying to make me leave?
Squatters—because that’s what Gwen is—squatters do shit like this.
My attention is drawn to the refrigerator and to the magnets there.
A rainbow. Disneyland. An old high school picture of me. Beneath that picture of me…
An envelope that wasn’t there as I popped the top off a Tico Chico just an hour ago.
It takes every muscle in my body to reach the fridge, to lift my hand and pull that envelope from beneath that high school picture of me.
I read the handprinted words there…
Rachel Howzell Hall is the New York Times bestselling author of We Lie Here; These Toxic Things; And Now She’s Gone; and They All Fall Down; and, with James Patterson, The Good Sister, which was included in Patterson’s collection The Family Lawyer. A Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist as well as an Anthony, International Thriller Writers, and Lefty Award nominee, Rachel is also the author of Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes, and City of Saviors in the Detective Elouise Norton series. A past member of the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America, Rachel has been a featured writer on NPR’s acclaimed Crime in the City series and the National Endowment for the Arts weekly podcast; she has also served as a mentor in Pitch Wars and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Rachel lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. For more information, visit www.rachelhowzell.com. You can follow Rachel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.