The Last Party

Written by Clare Mackintosh

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

The Last Party
RRP: £14.99
Released: August 4 2022

Kick start. New Year’s morning and a woman called Harriet wakes in an unfamiliar bed beside a man whose name she can’t remember. We’re starting with yet another promiscuous foul-mouthed woman, another soft-porn best-seller? – but wait, the build-up jumps to the p.o.v. of Marcus, the chap in the bed: divorced, domesticated, a bit of a wimp, unadventurous but not averse to sex.

And what each participant had thought was a one-night stand within hours transmutes to excruciating embarrassment as they meet again, this time over a murder victim, and introduced formally by a forensic pathologist. “Harriet” is Ffion Morgan, “Marcus” Leo Brady, and both are Detective Constables. Worse, although from separate forces, they are destined to work together by virtue of the dubious location of a crime which has occurred more or less on a national border. The body in the morgue, reported missing in England, was found in Wales and between the two sites there is a long lake, the border running down its centre. There is a traditional Welsh village on the western shore facing what some indigenous people maintain is a settlement on the English side.

The murdered man is Rhys Lloyd, a kind of defector: a local boy who has achieved fame as a singer but, with his star waning from opera through musicals to TV commercials, he has come home to try his luck at developing a select resort within spitting distance of his birthplace but on the English side of the border. 

The development is over the top: the units, too large and opulent with their up-market furnishing, wrap-around decks and private jetties to be termed cabins, they are sold as luxury lodges, promotion citing the glorious views of pine forests, snow-capped mountains and the lake with its resident terns.  The leases are costly but the first takers are well-heeled or wily: among them a celebrated boxer, a wealthy widow, a single mother who has come to an arrangement with Rhys…. Two lodges are second homes for Jonty, the financier behind the project, and the other for Rhys himself, both family men with watchful wives and teen-age children, the latter an ephemeral link with the village youngsters.

At New Year to celebrate the last sale and incidentally to demonstrate good relations with the villagers, Rhys throws a grand champagne party, the last of the title and, as it transpires, his own last appearance. By the following morning currents in the lake have brought his body home, bludgeoned by one of his own Awards. Which is the point where the story, so far, a concoction of timing and points of view, settles on the present, and Morgan and Brady, those initial bedfellows, now ferrets squabbling in a sack, are set to discover the Scene of the Crime, the how, and the who. Why is left to the reader.

Despite the naughty opening and suggestions of Greek tragedy – incest, infanticide – this is basically a Christie-type puzzle: a closed community (two of them actually, but isolated and at odds); there are cops, clues, red herrings and meticulous interviews. A brain teaser, not quite cosy, but never graphic.

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