Title: The Last
Author: Hanna Jameson
Genre: Science Fiction, Post-apocalypse, Mystery
Publication date: Jamuary 31 2019
Hardcover: 400 pages
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?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: bought
Format (e- or p-): ebook
The end of the world came one morning via phone notification when Jon Keller was having his breakfast at a hotel in Switzerland where he had been attending a convention for historians. The first few minutes, the first few hours after the first nuclear attacks destroyed cities all around the world remain a mystery to Jon, he can’t quite remember beyond his crumbling fear and despair.
Now, a coupe of days later, things are starting to settle down (are they?) and Jon is keeping notes, a diary of sorts. He is worried. He doesn’t know if his wife and kids are safe and well back in the US. He doesn’t know if anyone is coming to rescue them in the remote hotel. The first 50 days get rougher and rougher–people leave. People commit suicide. It’s getting colder and darker and it doesn’t rain anymore. Communications are all but dead. The 20 who are still at the hotel have no idea what’s out there.
On day 50, Jon starts a more structured narrative chronicle–he is after all, the last surviving historian. And they could be the last humans on Earth.
Day 50 is also when they find the body of a girl (no older than 10) inside one of the water tanks. Who was she? Who killed her? Was it one of them?
Jon grows increasingly obsessed with figuring out those questions to bring justice to the murdered girl, just as tensions mount inside the hotel with the group becoming more and more fractured in the face of their new isolated reality.
I love high-concept books and The Last by Hanna Jameson promised to be just that: a post-apocalyptic book AND a murder mystery with an unreliable narrator all rolled into one. Sadly, it was nowhere near as good as I was hoping it would be. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, although I am not a huge stickler for logic and verisimilitude when it comes to post-apocalyptic scenarios (I mean, humans will be humans), it was very frustrating to read about a group of survivors (some with experience in management and leadership) trapped inside hotel with over 1,000 room who at the two-month mark had still not gone through all rooms to find possible supplies (considering the size of the hotel and the aforementioned lack of searching, it is also possible that some of the rooms still had bodies in them? Or other people hiding?). Jon’s record keeping as a historian sounds very hodgepodge too and his attempts at oral history, very amateurish. The juicier bits of the plot also go without much teeth: how about the concept of justice itself as society collapses? How does that work?
It doesn’t help that most of the characters Jon is writing about remain a mystery and they are not very fleshed out. There are interesting-sounding people there including Tomi, the other American in the group, a young woman who is a sociologist (also keeping her own diaries) and a libertarian (!). This is probably due to the unreliability of Jon as both a narrator AND a historian.
His attempt at chronicling the end of the world AND to investigate the murder are truly an attempt to occupy his mind: hiding his own worries and concerns. What he doesn’t say, what he doesn’t show are as much part of the narrative. Ordinarily I would be all over this type of unreliable narrator. Unfortunately, Jon is not a very interesting narrator at all. He is a stereotypical 40 year-old white dude, who is a serial cheater with a failing marriage, who has a saviour complex and who of course, manages somehow to get the coolest woman (Tomi) around to sleep with him. She does call him out on his bullshit though. In the most illuminating part of the novel, where it becomes clear that the author is aware of the shortcomings of her choice of narrator, Tomi says to Jon:
“Men always think they’re being objective and that everyone else has some kind of special interest. I’d love to read your work, to see how hard you’re trying to convince your future readers you’re a swell guy.”
This awareness feels very short-lived and it doesn’t actually have lasting effects in the narrative in any way – there is no subversion, no further questioning. Jon remains the hero we are supposed to root for, feel for and I just… didn’t.
Rating: 5 Meh