Generally, I’m not good with crime series. I prefer to start at the beginning where I can, to follow the story arcs of the main characters, but… I rarely don’t get beyond the first two or three books in a series. This series fatigue is probably sparked by having too many other books calling at me, so eschew the characters I know in favour of the new.
This all leads me towards the fact that I love standalones – of which The Last Girl to Die is a super example!
Anyone who has enjoyed the TV series The Missing and Baptiste, featuring missing persons expert Julien Baptiste, will not find it so odd that a Canadian PI is called in to locate a missing teen on the Isle of Mull by an American family who have moved there fairly recently. Sadie Levesque is such a specialist, employed by the Clark family to locate their teenaged daughter Adriana. The local police’s search under Sergeant Harris Eggo have been rather perfunctory – they believe she’s gone to the mainland and will be back.
Sadly, after only a few days, Sadie, having discovered there is a cave where they sometimes congregate, visits it, finding Adriana’s body deep inside, laid out with a seaweed crown and violated, then buried under rocks – it looks a ritualised killing, several days old, to her. This immediately makes Sgt Eggo look ineffective and he doesn’t want Sadie interfering, although the pathologist who flies in is sympathetic, as she has the family’s explicit permission. The police now assume it was a tourist who murdered the girl, despite the evidence of the symbolism of how her body was displayed. The family want Sadie to stay on to find their daughter’s killer which Sadie is more than happy to do, even if she has to battle against bureaucracy, and face increasing antagonism from some of the (male) locals.
Once Sadie starts digging, can after can of worms are opened, but linking them together is proving difficult, until she hears about another murder twenty years before that was never solved. With the aid of the journalist who’d reported on that story all those years ago, and her increasing friendship with pathologist Nathan, she begins to make some headway, or so she thinks.
There are countless twists and turns in this fast-moving story, as suspects move in and out of the frame. Our suspicions are further fuelled when Sadie discovers the pagan rites still performed by the women of Mull, who in common with many accused of witchcraft throughout history are still taking on the role of wise-women. It’s not Satanistic, it is about local folklore, and finding empowerment through ritual, herbs (and shrooms). Nearly everyone on the island has something to hide, including the Clarks, whom it feels are holding things back right from the start. The pace doesn’t let up for a moment and there’s no time to take a breath as the action builds up and up to a shocking climax.
Sadie is a wonderful protagonist, feisty, diminuitive but strong, but finds her methods gradually being shut down by the islanders. Co-starring alongside her though is the wonderful scenery of Mull – beautiful but treacherous, it seems that Mother Nature colludes to hide a plethora of secrets.
In the pub where Adriana had worked some shifts alongside Sgt Eggo’s son Lewis, Lewis comes to tell Sadie to watch her back…
Lewis had reached out to me. He wanted me to know that something was wrong. Would he open up a little more next time? If I respected his pace and proved that I could keep his trust, then yes, I was hoping he would. Because Lewis Eggo had looked me in the eyes and told me what I’d really needed to know. That this island had killed Adriana Clark. Not some random tourist; not an impetuous night visit to a complete stranger; not her own wilfulness. And I’d wait as long as was needed for Lewis Eggo to come to me again. (page 61)
The Last Girl to Die is a superb standalone crime thriller, with a real sense of place and atmosphere. Its feisty heroine is a brilliant character, but supported by a well fleshed out supporting cast. I heartily recommend this book and will be looking into Helen Fields’ backlist, I’m certain.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Avon paperback, 366 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
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