The Last: The end of the world. Again.

The Last by Hanna Jameson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last by Hanna Jameson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last by Hanna Jameson

Jon Keller is having breakfast in a Swiss hotel when the world ends. Another guest at the hotel receives a notification on her Twitter: Washington has been destroyed by a nuclear weapon. New York follows. Then Scotland, China, Germany. Now only twenty people remain at the hotel whilst the state of the outside world remains a mystery.

On day fifty, Jon and some of the other hotel guests find the body of a murdered girl. A historian by profession (Jon had been visiting Switzerland for an academic conference), our protagonist takes it upon himself to both document his time at the hotel and try and solve the mystery of the murdered girl. What ensues is a heady blend of post-apocalyptic story, murder mystery and psychological thriller.

The Last (2019) is another addition to an already bloated genre. How many times have we seen the world end? What Hanna Jameson does provide is a new twist: a high concept thriller blended with murder mystery. Critics have hailed the book as a mixture of Agatha Christie and Stephen King, but The Last doesn’t always read like an original addition to the genre. Tired, recycled tropes make their inevitable appearance: the raided supermarkets, the miraculously remaining stashes of antibiotics, the gun-toting outlaws, the good guys turned bad. The intrigue that the murder might have held is diluted by harried plotlines that we’ve seen again and again.

There are moments in the book so startlingly unconvincing that readers will be pulled right out of the story. It takes the guests two months to leave the hotel. They imagine that the law beyond the confines of the remote forest in which the hotel is situated has all but dissolved, that the public has run amok, or that whatever cities there were no longer exist. Fine. All are plausible. But not to look? It seems unbelievable that twenty adults would not be curious to see what’s out there.

When the guests eventually do leave the hotel, they head straight to a supermarket where, mindblowingly, there are still items on the shelves. There is even a locked pharmacy where the guests pick up medicine. What’s more, they don’t fully explore the hotel they are staying in. There are a thousand rooms in the building, and yet they do not check every room for supplies. Even by the three month mark. This falls so short of being believable that readers may find it hard to persevere.

Jameson does write well. Her prose is spare and elegant, her characters less so. Readers looking for a post-apocalyptic thriller will get what they are looking for, but those seeking more or something they haven’t seen before will not find it here.

Published in January 2019. For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war—along with twenty other survivors—who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel’s water tanks. Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange. Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl. As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. I don’t know, I thought THE LAST POLICEMAN did this idea better. Technically, that book is pre-apocalypse, but still.

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