A Post-Nuclear Locked Room Mystery!

The Last by Hanna Jameson

An American historian, Jon Keller, is at a conference in a remote hotel in the Swiss Alps when the the news that the world is at nuclear war comes through, major cities across the globe are being wiped out. Should he try to return to America while he still can to see if his wife and children survived, or should he stay put in the neutral Swiss mountains until the global situation is clarified? What a dilemma!

Most of the hotel guests and staff opt to go: Jon stays, along with 19 others. They’re an eclectic mix. Luckily, Dylan, the hotel’s Head of Security and Sophia, a Chef are amongst those remaining. Dylan takes charge, and Sophia keeps feeding everyone. One of the guests is a doctor – phew! Each of the remaining 19, which includes a Japanese couple with two children, must begin to get to know each other, to work together in order to survive. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and there are tensions from the start. Jon is the kind of chap who will volunteer for everything and his calmness is appreciated by Dylan. Likewise, the no-nonsense Tomisen, known as Tomi, an American postdoc student speaks up for the women.

The book is written in the form of Jon’s diaries, starting at Day Three after the catastophe. Initially Jon writes brief notes, then more formally begins a history of the group from Day Fifty as the group’s numbers have stabilised.

Day fifty was when they discovered the body. Dylan, Nathan and Jon had gone up on the hotel roof to check the water tanks as the water was tasting and looking off – no wonder, there was the body of a young girl in one of them. So we now have the Swiss alpine equivalent of a locked-room murder mystery which gives this novel a different edge to just being a pure survival tale. Jon is determined to find the young girl’s killer, it must have been one of the hotel guests or staff – they could still be there – and it will take his mind off the fate of his wife and children. We know they had been having problems, as he tells us on Day Six:

I wanted to come to the conference. I was glad of the time away from Nadia and my children.
I might die soon, there’s no point lying about it now.
I’m sorry, Nadia. If you ever read this. I’m so, so sorry.
I’m not sure anybody is coming.

Of course, the remainers must downsize their lives in the hotel. The electricity is switched off to upper floors first but increasingly everywhere – those staying will need to get used to not being connected, as the hotel’s internet and phones go down. They stockpile everything useful from the rooms, but soon, inevitably, they have to go out to scavenge for supplies, running the gauntlet of others hiding in the woods or the nearest villages and shops. They’re lucky that the hotel had a stock of hunting rifles, they’re unlucky in that Tomi hid most of the ammunition to prevent the possibility of a massacre with a killer amongst them, so the trips out are even riskier. Inside the hotel, there will continue to be tough decisions to be made on the occasions that tensions overboil, when depression hits, when those staying pair off, and not least Jon’s dogged and obsessive quest to find the girl’s killer. You know that things will come to a head!

I found our narrator, Jon, rather faceless; I like to visualise what characters look like, but I couldn’t pin him down. In fact, although Jameson does describe most of the remaining group briefly in the text, Jon’s history is dialogue and action driven with little pure description. With the exception of Tomi and perhaps Dylan, the other characters didn’t stand out as individuals – followers all – but some will have their moments to star.

I love dystopias and post-apocalyptic novels as some of you will already know. I powered through this book, finding it a page-turning read, especially the parts set in the hotel. Once the group were forced to send parties out and they discover that some sort of life continues beyond the hotel’s confines, it lost its uniqueness. Those outside sections offered nothing new to any of the many survival dramas I’ve read, so I wished they’d been able to hole up in the hotel and get on each others’ nerves for longer! However, Jameson’s fourth novel was a fun read that was hard to put down. (7.5/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you.

Hanna Jameson, The Last (Viking, 2019) Penguin paperback 392 pages. BUY at Amazon UK or Blackwell’s via affiliate links.

10 thoughts on “A Post-Nuclear Locked Room Mystery!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Definitely a curate’s egg of a book, I agree. Once they left it was so much like every other ordinary survival tale. Very readable, but didn’t hold together enough.

  1. Laura says:

    I really enjoyed this. I felt the murder mystery was more of a red herring though; really only there to throw up questions about how we can still hold on to what we value after disaster.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    Interesting, if apparently flawed. Still, having found another post-nuclear novel Z for Zachariah spellbinding though implausible I might still seek this out.

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