Surviving a shooting at the High School in which she works, Jessie Conway is thrust, unwillingly, into the spotlight as the hero of the hour. The woman who brought down the two young men who had murdered two of her colleagues and would surely have continued to kill unrepentantly. But Jessie doesn’t feel like a hero. Regrets every moment of having shot the two boys, of having their blood upon her hands and wants no part of the media storm which is brewing around her. But Jessie has another reason for wanting to evade the spotlight. A dark secret she has been keeping from her husband. One which could tear her happy family unit apart.
When Jessie’s reluctance to be interviewed draws the attention of a local journalist, the secrets of her past come spilling out putting her at odds with her family and threatening her marriage. Not only that, but it brings her fully to the attention of Caleb Switch, a man who lives to hunt. But Caleb prefers his prey to be a challenge. And, more specifically, human. There is nothing more satisfying for Caleb than what he calls a type A personality, someone who has the intelligent and fight to give him a good run, and Jessie, a survivor, a hero, is just his type. Faced with yet another fight for her life, can Jessie outwit her hunter, or will she become his next, and most satisfying trophy kill?
Last to Die is a fast paced, thrilling read. The action starts right from the get go with the opening passages surrounding the school shooting, which is actually no more than a side note in the whole story. You would think this would be enough to drive the story, that it would be a search for the reasons why two young boys would choose to target a school. And right up until we meet the sociopathic Caleb, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is. But from the moment he sets his first victim free ready for the hunt, you know that there is far more to come.
Focusing on the point of view of Jessie, her husband, Mike, and Caleb, we, as the reader, are treated to a real roller coaster of a ride of emotions and, in the case of Caleb, lack thereof. At first, it is easy to dismiss Jessie’s avoidance of the media as a coping mechanism, that she is just someone suffering from classic PTSD symptoms, nightmares, weight loss and withdrawing from her family. She is an easy character to like and to feel something for, very sympathetically written, and it is easy to see why Caleb would be drawn to her. She is a true survivor. But as local reporter Darla Levine starts to dig into Jessie’s past and prints a secret she would prefer to have kept hidden, you start to really see why she has such strength of character and I suppose the only thing you have to decide is whether or not she is a victim or not. Her relationship with Mike is fully believable and her friendship and kinship with the black sheep of the family, his brother Ace, more understandable as the truth of her past is revealed.
Caleb is a totally different beast. Completely detached, extremely fit (as early descriptions would attest and somewhat vain to go with it), centred and above all else, a cold blooded killer. You can’t like him, not really, but you do get to understand him. Perhaps more could have been made of some of his earlier kills but ultimately this is about his hunt of Jessie and to spell out his methods too soon would be to give too much away. This does make the middle part of the book a little slower in pace but no less enjoyable to read, and when you get to the final scenes, when Jessie is running for her life, the speed of the action is frantic and you can feel your heart rate elevate as you watch the action from afar, and will Mike and Ace to do what they can to find Jessie before it is too late.
If I had one criticism, it would be that Mike and Ace are able to find out who the mystery assailant is a little too easily. A serial killer who isn’t even on the radar of the police and yet one random clue is enough for them to find him. In the end, their knowledge is not enough to help Jessie. Only her spirit and her strength is will see her through.
This is a great story with some really great, likeable and fleshed out characters. Ace is bit of a revelation as it is easy from early scenes to just dismiss him as a waster and yet it is him who steps up and ultimately saves Jessie. Is the story wholly original? If you’ve ever watched Criminal Minds you can probably guess the nature of Caleb’s unique style of hunting, but then is there such a thing as truly original anymore? What this is, is a well written thrill ride of a story, the setting and the language very believable, and with a central character that you are rooting for. There is one scene which is a little cruel involving Jessie’s dog -always an emotive subject that one – but if you can forgive that and read on, then you are in for one heck of a treat, and thanks to Net Galley and publishers Bookouture for the ARC in exchange for my review.
Last to Die is available to order here: