Book Review: The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane

Without your past, who are you?

TheFormerChiefExecutiveAbout the Book

Deborah was a respected hospital manager until a tragedy destroyed her reputation. She has lost her career, her husband and even her name. Luca wants to stay in the moment. For the first time in his life he has hope and a home. But a fresh start is hard on a zero-hours contract, harder if old voices fill your mind. When a garden share scheme brings them together, Deborah is beguiled by Luca’s youth and grace. He makes her husband’s garden live again. He helps her when she’s at her lowest. But can she trust him? And when the time comes to confront her past, can she find the strength?

Book Facts

Format: ebook Publisher:   Pages: 150
Publication: 8th June 2017 Genre: Fiction    

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My Review

Don’t be misled by the title – this isn’t the memoir of a former management high-flier or a self-improvement book, it’s a taut psychological study of grief, secrets and trying to leave behind your past.  Its dark, slightly chilling atmosphere reminded me at times of the books written by Ruth Rendell under the pen name Barbara Vine.

Deborah and her husband, Peter, had planned their retirement together, moving to a bungalow near the sea where Peter could indulge his love of gardening. Those plans were cruelly thwarted by Peter’s cancer diagnosis and swift demise. Now Deborah finds herself alone, with only unhappy memories and regrets for company.

‘Deborah looked around at the emptiness, and listened to the quiet, the percussive thrum of electrical appliances and thought, this is it, this is my life now.’

I was moved by the author’s insightful and affecting depiction of Deborah’s grief and her sense of loss and displacement following bereavement.

‘So it was only really with Peter that she had felt she could be herself. Be yourself. Whatever did that mean? If she could only be herself with Peter, who was she now? No one, she thought. A husk.’

What makes the situation worse for Deborah is the contrast between her life before as a successful senior manager and the emptiness she feels now.

‘She had been a mouse on a wheel that was spinning very fast. A mouse who happened to be a good runner. Now the wheel was broken.’

And there are hints of an event in Deborah’s past – a decision she took that had tragic consequences and which led to her being vilified in the press. Despite moving to a new area and changing her surname, Deborah still lives with the nagging fear that she will be recognised and it will start all over again.

Enter Luca, to tend the garden Peter loved, as part of a community rehabilitation scheme.  I have to say at this point that, as a gardener myself, I loved the way the author presents gardening as a therapeutic activity, both physically and mentally.  Luca is also trying to put his past behind him and move forward with his life. He’s an intriguing figure, with an almost mystical aspect to his character that contributes to the unsettling atmosphere of the book.  Luca seems to be able to sense instinctively the needs of others and feel drawn to help them.

When Deborah’s daughter, Eleanor, comes to stay, she is surprised her mother has made no attempt to find out more about Luca’s past.  Deborah is reluctant to do so – after all, he hasn’t asked about hers. I won’t say much more for fear of spoiling other readers’ enjoyment. Whilst not exactly a thriller, the author nonetheless creates a feeling of suspense as secrets gradually emerge and events take an unexpected turn in a way I had definitely not anticipated.

I was really impressed with this book. The assured writing really made the characters come alive in a way that was credible and it had a dark, intense feel to it that made you want to read on. I also love the gorgeous cover.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of the author in return for an honest review.

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In three words: Intriguing, intense, compelling

KateVaneAbout the Author

Kate Vane is the author of three novels, Not the End, Recognition and The Former Chief Executive (published on 8 June 2017). She has written for BBC drama Doctors and has had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday. She lived in Leeds for a number of years where she worked as a probation officer. She now lives on the Devon coast.

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