Nothing Without Me

A Novel

Paperback

April 2, 2024 | ISBN 9780593596180

Ebook

April 2, 2024 | ISBN 9780593596197

Audiobook Download

April 2, 2024 | ISBN 9780593822647

About the Book

The gripping tale of a film director with a shadowy past, her missing lead actress, and the disturbing cost of fame—from “addictive” (People) suspense writer Helen Monks Takhar

“A pulse-pounding roller coaster through the shadows of the silver screen.”—Jaclyn Goldis, author of The Chateau


Fame is a deadly game. . . .


April Eden is about to have the night of her life. After years struggling uphill as a female director, her debut movie The Vanished Woman is up for a major British film award, placing her firmly on Hollywood’s radar. Her leading lady, Essie Lay—a fragile but magnetic former TV host—is on the cusp of a stunning comeback after being canceled for a disturbing scandal.

When Essie messages April saying she can’t face the ceremony, April heads to Essie’s palatial London mansion, Lotus Lodge, to convince her to enjoy their big night together. But upon arriving, April is faced with tragedy: Essie’s body is floating in her swimming pool, all signs pointing to suicide. Panicked, April activates Essie’s team—her put-upon sister/manager, Janine, and her wily agent, Jonathan—expecting them to do damage control while she heads to the awards ceremony; she’s devastated yet determined to do what she can to protect Essie’s legacy.

But by the time April returns to Lotus Lodge to face the fallout, Essie’s body has vanished. Was Essie actually murdered? Is this an elaborate hoax or publicity stunt gone wrong? And why does April start receiving unsettling messages, trying to pin the blame on her?

Taut, twisty, and deliciously page-turning, Nothing Without Me examines the high price of female fame, how far some will go to climb the slippery ladder of celebrity, and the unbearable pressure of being the woman everyone wants to be.
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Praise for Nothing Without Me

“[Nothing Without Me] shows the dark side of fame and the extra pressure that it places on females. . . . Thought-provoking and emotional . . . Takhar has provided a novel that everyone will be talking about.”Mystery & Suspense

“Terrific . . . An absolute humdinger of a thriller!”—Gytha Lodge, author of A Killer in the Family

“Expertly plotted and pulsing with suspense, Nothing Without Me plunges readers into the cutthroat world of Hollywood, peeling back the veneer of celebrity and deftly exposing the dark side of fame and ruthless ambition. A twisty and timely read, it kept me guessing right up to the jaw-dropping end.”—Lindsay Cameron, author of No One Needs to Know

“A pulse-pounding roller coaster through the shadows of the silver screen, Nothing Without Me will leave you questioning the true nature of celebrity and the devastating sacrifices women are forced to make to stay in the spotlight’s glow. Helen Monks Takhar lays bare the dark side of Hollywood glitz and glamour in this chilling and intoxicating mystery.”—Jaclyn Goldis, author of The Chateau

“Monks Takhar explores the dark side of celebrity in this diabolically plotted and ferociously feminist psychological thriller. . . . Exquisitely rendered, realistically damaged characters help make the novel’s jaw-dropping twists feel earned. . . . Liane Moriarty fans, take note: This is a must-read.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
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Excerpt

Nothing Without Me

1

Essie, the night of the awards

My body floats facedown in my pool at Lotus Lodge.

My dress is perfect: backless, bright white like the moon. The lapping water sends the hem towards the top of my thighs. Like the rest of me, my legs are spray-tanned nut-brown; my extensions are blonde, snaking across the surface of the water like they want to get away from me; my fingernails, black. My psychiatrist told me I suffer from a dissociative disorder and looking at my body now—its legs, skin, hair, and nails—I believe her. None of these pieces of me feel like they really belong to me now, if they ever did. Maybe that’s what happens when everyone from your mother down has their take on every part of you: long-lens beach shots of my legs’ ‘stubborn cellulite’; newspaper columns on the lines on my face and the procedures I apparently had in a ‘desperate bid’ to get rid of them; Twitter memes of my damp underarms on set at Daybreak. Wouldn’t these disconnect even a well-adjusted woman from herself? And with my family, I was never coming at the mad intrusion of fame into my body, into my entire life, from a place where I knew where my boundaries ought to lie.

But none of that matters now. I’ve crossed a line. I can’t come back over it. I don’t want to. So, let’s pan out and look at the scene.

It looks kind of like the start of Sunset Boulevard, only it’s me, the star of the screen, who’s facedown in the water. No chance I’ll be staring into a camera like Norma Desmond tonight, ready for my close-up. And the writer isn’t narrating this story from beyond the grave. She is alive, but she’s not well, not now she’s seen me.

‘NO!’ April shrieks from my poolside. She’s also in a white dress, her grey-blonde hair in its usual braid at her neck. Her palms fly to the sides of her head as she steps closer to the pool, before retreating to the sliding glass doors that divide it from my favourite living space in Lotus. Bent like a drinking straw, her hands against the glass, April hyperventilates as she speaks.

‘Oh god, oh god, oh god. No, Essie. Please, no.’ She forces herself to turn back to view my body once more. ‘What have you done!?’

April immediately assumes I’ve done this to myself and, in a way, she’s right. But millions of people are culpable. Every person who clicked on one of those stories about my body; everyone who piled on to make my name trend on Twitter for no good reason, posted some dark comment on Insta, or picked up a magazine at the checkout because I was on the cover crying over ‘my latest heartbreak’ or ‘the fallout from my shocking scandal’; every single person who shoved a smartphone in my face to steal another image of me, ignoring me when I begged them, ‘Please. Not today’; they have their share of blame for pushing me to this point. And if they could see me now, I know what they’d be thinking: Essie Lay has finally added herself to the rest: Amy Winehouse, Caroline Flack, Paula Yates, Marilyn Monroe . . . Last year, I fell off my throne as the queen of British light entertainment and into the gutter. Now, I’m one more famous female scalp they picked away at until it seemed there wasn’t enough left of Essie Lay worth saving.

April walks shakily back to the pool. She doesn’t notice the empty champagne bottle on the tiles until the side of her heel catches it and it rolls into the water with a splash. With her next steps, April grinds some stray pills into the sole of her shoe. Spotting the scattered tablets, she reaches towards the pill bottle on the ground, dropping onto her haunches to pick it up. Teetering now on the edge of the pool, she peers at the label.

‘Zolpidem?’

Shaking her head, she places the bottle back down so that she might reach into the water for me, but I’m too far from the side. April strains further. Still, I’m out of reach.

‘Hope the head’s not too bad—thought I had some ibuprofen in the glove compartment.’

A tall, handsome man calls from far behind April in the entrance atrium in his borrowed black tie. He strides across the marble floor, through to the living room, then to the pool area. Jags, April’s boyfriend.

‘Maybe Essie’s got . . . April?’

Jags comes up behind her, sees me. ‘Jesus Christ,’ he gasps. Meanwhile, April’s fingertips are about to touch the surface of the water near a strand of my extensions.

‘Don’t!’ Jags shouts, rocking her on the spot. She almost falls into the water, but he moves to hold her from behind, retrieving her from the edge. ‘Don’t,’ he repeats more quietly. ‘She’s obviously . . . oh shit. April, come away, you probably shouldn’t disturb the scene.’

April snaps her hand back, mouths something inaudible, mystified, like she’s having her own out-of-body experience. Jags slips off his dinner jacket and drapes it around her shoulders, his hands firmly on either side of her as he lifts her to her feet and leads her back towards the living room.

‘I don’t think you need to see this,’ he tells her. Still, April can’t help but turn her head over her shoulder, unable to take her eyes off me in the water. ‘Darling. There’s nothing you can do to help her now.’ Jags breaks contact only to slide the glass doors closed behind them.

‘Oh god, oh god, oh god. Just . . . why?’ April slides down the glass doors, unable to stand. They remain in silence for a few moments. April still struggling for breath on the floor, Jags rubbing his mouth and chin with his fingers and thumb.

‘Say something. Please,’ April begs eventually, her voice heightened and strained.

‘I’m stunned, obviously. Essie’s seemed a bit up and down, I suppose, but I had no idea it was as bad as this. Did you?’

April shakes her head. ‘I never thought she’d ever . . .’ Does this sentence end with an unspoken . . . go through with it?

‘I guess she’s one of those girls, women. You told me once she tried this sort of thing before.’

April blinks away an old memory she doesn’t want to recall now. ‘You said, the scene.’ April looks at Jags, bewildered. ‘I assumed she’d—’

‘I mean, yeah, me too. What else?’

‘But the scene,’ April says, rising panic in her voice. ‘You don’t think someone else could be involved?’ she whispers, looking about in fresh terror, imagining a murderer might still be lurking somewhere in Lotus.

‘Turn of phrase.’ Jags shakes his head dismissively. ‘Essie was seeing a psychiatrist, wasn’t she? Her mental health must have got the better of her.’

At this, April’s head falls, and she seems to swallow the nausea in her mouth.

‘But we probably don’t want to mess around with anything, not before whoever comes along to do whatever they need to do,’ Jags continues.

April half-nods, then blinks herself to a new realisation. ‘Who do we call? What do we do?’ She swipes her head left to right as though searching for something. ‘Is it real? Is she really gone?’

‘I’m so sorry. This is . . . just appalling. Here.’ Jags holds out his hands. April resists for a second before letting him lift her to her feet and guiding her deeper into the living room to sit. He takes her to a rattan egg chair hanging from the high ceiling, its back turned to the pool.

‘I’m so, so sorry, darling. Sorry for her, sorry for you,’ Jags says. He is on his knees in front of April.

About the Author

Helen Monks Takhar
Helen Monks Takhar is the author of the novels Precious You and Such A Good Mother. She is also joint managing director of the production company Second Generation with her husband, screenwriter and executive producer Danny Takhar. Helen worked as a journalist, copywriter, and magazine editor after graduating from Cambridge University. She began her career writing for financial trade newspapers before contributing to UK national newspapers including The Times and The Observer. She lives in North London with Danny and their two daughters. More by Helen Monks Takhar
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