I love a good end of the world thriller, and I was delighted when my request to read and review The Last via Netgalley was approved.
BREAKING: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington
BREAKING: London hit, thousands feared dead
BREAKING: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm
Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilisation, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.
Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.
Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.
As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?
As a post-apocalyptic novel, The Last ticked a lot of boxes for me. The reader sees the moment when the calamitous event – in this case, the use of nuclear weapons to attack various targets around the globe – happens, and observes as civilisation breaks down in no time at all. Our means of communication, so much of it linked to the internet now, fail, and so the pockets of survivors don’t know the true extent of the damage, survival rates, nor who is behind the attacks. They don’t know if there’s anywhere safe they can go. Whilst it can be frustrating not knowing as a reader, I think that this adds a degree of realism to the situation that our survivors find themselves in, and it made me consider how I might act in such a situation, which is exactly what I like about this kind of novel.
Setting The Last in a hotel is a brilliant idea. The twenty or so survivors have some supplies of food and drinking water to rely upon. They have shelter, beds, (cold) water for bathing, and back-up generators that can be used in emergencies. They also have weapons, previously used for recreational hunting, but now providing both sustenance and protection. With careful rationing, these survivors are able to live in relative comfort for some time. Whilst it sounds like they’re having an easy time of it, being cooped up in the isolated hotel allows for cabin fever to set in, and Jameson explores the psychological impact of being one of the few left alive brilliantly. Tempers begin to fray, and group begins to divide, largely into groups based upon nationality. The situation becomes increasingly tense, and I thought that Jameson portrayed perfectly how different characters might act and react in such a situation – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Jon – our main protagonist – is a historian, and decides to document the end of the world and its immediate aftermath. It seems a little pointless, but I think that it’s as much to keep himself occupied as to actually capture the day to day goings on. Throughout, he drops in comments to and about his wife, Nadia, still in America at the time of the bombings. The reader learns a great deal about Jon in this way, and I have to say that not all of it is good. He carries a great deal of regret with him, but realises this when it’s too late to do anything about it. I didn’t like Jon as a character, although he does provide the voice of reason as the novel progresses and the survivors begin to turn on one another, and my poor opinion of him didn’t detract from the story at all.
Combined with the end of the world is the discovery of a little girl’s body. The victim of a murder, no one is sure who she is, nor who is responsible for her death. This adds another dimension to the story, which given the relative ease with which they are initially, at least, surviving the end of the world, adds some drama and an element of paranoia. Jon investigates, capturing his activities as part of his documentation of their survival, but this proves more difficult than usual, and he is reliant upon good ol’ fashioned means of investigation to hunt for clues. It’s an interesting premise, although I did feel that this story line got a little lost in the survival element of the novel.
Combining an end of the world situation with a little And Then There Were None thrown in, The Last is an original and intriguing novel. It’s not as dark as some post-apocalyptic novels can be, and should appeal to readers who enjoyed Station Eleven.
The Last will be published on 24 January on Kindle, and 31 January in hardback. Many thanks to the publisher, Viking, for allowing me to read and review this title ahead of publication via Netgalley.
Rating ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐