Trying to find a unique setting that has never been explored before for a crime fiction novel can be a daunting task; at times it seems that every possible permutation of location + crime has been attempted. But then along comes Hanna Jameson to prove with her novel The Last, that sometimes if you can look at something through a prism of originality, what is old really can be new. In the case of The Last – why not take a traditional closed-circle manor house mystery and set it just after a nuclear catastrophe. Who knew a dystopian Armageddon could come with an armchair, a cup of tea, and murder?
In The Last, the role of the manor house will be played by the Switzerland-based L’Hotel Sixieme. Hanna Jameson’s first chapter documents how the guests discover that a full-blown nuclear war has broken out around the world – virtually destroying civilization in all the major cities. The remote location of the hotel is responsible for their survival, but it also means they are cut off from any information from the outside world. Fairly quickly, paranoia and fear set in and many individuals flee out into the unknown, while others succumb to their suicidal thoughts. Until ultimately, only twenty people remain.
Jon Keller is our narrator and unfortunately for him, he made the decision to delay responding to his wife’s text and now he may never see her again. Staying at the hotel for an academic conference, it is Jon and some hotel employees who discover that the water pressure problems they are experiencing have been caused by the dead body of a young girl floating in one of the water tanks located on the hotel’s roof. But who is this girl, how long as she been there, why has no one reported her missing, and who the hell killed her?
Much of Hanna Jameson’s novel unspools like a traditional mystery, with our amateur sleuth nosing about trying to gather the needed evidence to pinpoint the murderer. But what makes The Last so unique is that simultaneously, a desperate fight for survival is occurring. Literally, this is human drama juxtaposed with Human Drama. Some chapters – especially when the survivors make their way outdoors –are thriller-esque in execution, with readers never really knowing who is safe and who will be collateral damage.
The Last is also a thinking-person’s book. There are grand ideas at play here – as one might expect when the end of the world as we know is imminent. What happens when all those lofty ideas we think of as humanity’s raison d’etre – love, happiness, loyalty, and justice – are stripped away leaving only uncertainly in their wake? This is an unsettling reading experience, mainly because it all rings so true.
Hanna Jameson’s debut should have widespread appeal. The writing has an ease to it, which allows room for contemplation. The mystery is solidly structured and the action set-pieces feel organic to the narrative. The Last is a strange mash-up of styles and tone, and yet it manages to feel familiar and comforting – and that is saying something given the chaos surrounding these individuals.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.