Riverrun, 11 May 2023
Available as: HB, 320pp, audio, e
Source: Advance e-copy & purchased copy
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of The Last Passenger via NetGalley to consider for review.
I loved this book.
But having read it, I'm not sure I would ever step aboard a liner or a cruise ship (we're told several times that the RMS Atlantica is the former and that there is a difference, but frankly, I'll not take the risk).
The story is narrated from the perspective of Caz Ripley, owner of a café in a small town in Northern England who is, with her boyfriend Pete, taking the trip of a lifetime. Caz has, as becomes clear, lived a hard life, learning to cope both with her gambling-addicted father, whose behaviour ruined the family, and her substance-addicted sister. Caz has come out on top, sort of, but only with a lot of struggle - and she is haunted by many demons.
Caz will face another hard struggle as the voyage of RMS Atlantica goes fatally wrong, leaving her the only person on board an out of control ship. She will have to dig deep to survive, and it will be as much a psychological as a physical struggle.
I loved the way that in this struggle, Dean takes a perfectly ordinary seeming situation and plausibly turns it upside down. It would be spoilery to tell you what has happened, and in fact the exact details are only supplied gradually, leaving a teasing mystery - is there a plausible way out of this or not? Whether there is will depend not only on Dean's setup but on Caz's courage, resourcefulness and her appetite for danger. It may be that she's inherited fatal flaws form her gambler father...
While is slightly frustrating not to be able to give more detail about what happens, this really is a book you don't want spoiled, with shocks and twists right through. It succeeds though on its characters, especially, of course, Caz whose own history may give her the ability to win through. Or may doom her to destruction. The others we meet are understably less well defined, but Dean has some surprises there to, playing games with our sympathies - it would be dangerous to pick favourites, still less winners!
On the way to the cracking conclusion are plenty of scenes of utter terror, placing us in the position of a character who's enduring, and suffering extremes of cold, hunger and fear. It's a testament to the writing that each off these episodes reads as chillingly true: The Last Passenger had my heart racing and my Fitbit congratulating me on all the exercise I must be taking. There is a great sense of place - of the cold and dark on the unheated ship, of the thousands of metres of water beneath, the vast sky above, both elements deadly hostile and ready to confront Caz at any time.
All in all, a devastating thriller and more than enough to warn me off ever going after the "old grey Widow-maker".
For more information about The Last Passenger see the publisher's website here.
For more information about The Other Lives of Miss Emily White, see the publisher's website here.