Dystopian crime mash up The Last fails to deliver

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Dystopian fiction meets crime thriller in Hanna Jameson’s much-praised debut novel The Last

This is not a harmonious marriage however. The Last is novel in which the two genres seem to be in conflict with each other instead of blending into a new and exciting narrative style.  

The Last by Hanna Jameson

The premise is an interesting one. A nuclear war has destroyed much of the Western world. The guests at a hotel deep in the Swiss countryside learn the truth in text messages sent hurriedly by their loved ones in the destroyed cities.

Twenty people remain in the hotel, cut off from the outside world and fearful whether help will arrive.  As days roll into weeks and the sun never shines or rust coloured clouds produce rain, the survivors become ever mor fearful for their future.

Some cannot deal with the uncertainty and immediately make plans to get to the nearest airport, ferry port or border. Others decide that suicide will bring a blessed relief. 

In the midst of the upheaval, the body of a young girl is found in a water tank. No-one recognises her or even recalls seeing her in the hotel. But it’s clear that she was murdered and the murderer may still be in the hotel. 

As the days progress, one guest, the American historian Jon Keller,  decides to make it his mission to search for the truth about the girl. He begins keeping a daily journal of events,  interviews with all the remaining guests and searches of the 1,000 rooms.

It’s through Jon’s eyes that we follow the reactions of his fellow guests, all of whom, have, until now been strangers. 

The Last contains plenty of dramatic incidents. The survivors discover bandits in the woods outside the hotel; an expedition to find food in the nearest city results in death and one guest suffers a drugs overdose.  

An Overcooked Narrative

But it felt like  Hanna Jameson was trying too hard, throwing just about everything possible into the mix. Strange footsteps in the night. A hotel with a history of unexplained deaths. Guests who disappear never to be seen again. Rivalries between the survivors. Uncertainty on who can be trusted and who is a danger.

If this is all familiar ground so too is Hannah Jameson’s depiction of how a group of people would react in the fact of catastrophe. They argue a lot; challenge the right of anyone to lay down rules; resort to violence; worry about radiation poisoning; suffer guilt about family members etc etc.

But it’s hard to get attached to any of them because they are ‘types’ rather than characters; people who seem to have been chosen because they can prove useful to the narrative.

We have a doctor, a chef and a security expert . One guest is a student who turns out to be an ace with a gun. There’s also a guy whose job involves working with traumatised children – very handy for trying to tease info out of the two children in the hotel.

I never felt invested in any of these characters and in fact kept forgetting who they were. Their tendency to speak in platitudes and cliches didn’t help make them any more real.

… what we think of as right and wrong doesn’t exist anymore. Everything that happened before, it has no meaning now.

Murder Mystery Fizzles Out

Throwing a murder into the mixture didn’t really help. It’s honestly a mystery why it was even included because it’s not particularly central to the story. No-one in the hotel other than Jon seems particularly bothered about finding the murderer; they’re more concerned with just surviving. And even Jon seems to forget about his quest periodically.

I could be entirely wrong but my suspicion is that the murder element was slotted into the plot part way through the writing; a kind of force fit rather than an integral part of the story.

The Last is a promising concept. It’s been compared to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Stephen King’s The Shining but the comparison doesn’t work. There’s little of Christie’s sense of mystery and even less of King’s menacing atmosphere.

Though it’s a fun read in many ways and does keep you reading the pages, ultimately the book doesn’t live up to its original promise.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 15, 2019, in Book Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Hmmm. This one hadn’t come across my radar yet, but personally, I’ve had enough of dystopian lit right now, so maybe the author added the genre-blending to change it up and break out of the dystopian mold and it just didn’t work.

  2. I also felt that the murder mystery element was a bit of a shoe in – it wasn’t central to the plot, and went largely overlooked for most of the novel.

  3. Such an interesting premise, it’s a shame it didn’t quite work. It sounds like the characters were a bit of a let down and needed more development.

  4. Does indeed sound like far too much was crammed in. I like experimental books, but this one sounds hard to get invested in.

  5. It is refreshing to read your ‘opposite’ review. I think it gives the writer and the reader a better sense of balance. Recently I was so annoyed with Good Girl Bad Girl, a crime novel by Michael Robotham, that I had to be brutally honest. From a generic plot to clichéd characters spouting buzz words, it also had a case of poor editing. For an internationally best-selling author, I thought it was a rushed job.

  6. I suppose that if you are trying to combine the features of two different genres you already have too much going on to develop realistic characters as well. Keep it simple.

  7. It sounds like an interesting premise and I like the idea of combining dystopia and mystery. A shame it didn’t deliver.

    Interesting what you write about the people being ‘types’ rather than characters. I recently read The Handmaid’s Tale and it left me somewhat disappointed, knowing how everybody else seemed to love it. I think one of the reasons for my disappointment was that I felt the people being ‘types’ rather than characters and I didn’t really connect to them.

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