The Last by Hanna Jameson #BookReview #BlogTour

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for The Last today. Many thanks to Hanna Jameson and Emily Burns for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

T.S. Eliot wrote, ' This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.' but in The Last, the world does end with a bang -  a series of bangs actually as nuclear bombs are dropped on cities around the world. For the guests at a remote hotel in Switzerland, the news is terrifying as they frantically try to discover what has happened to their loved ones and decide whether to flee or stay put and wait for whatever comes next. With communications down, they are effectively cut off from whatever remains of the rest of the world; for some it is too much and in the days immediately after what becomes termed Day 1, there is a spate of suicides among the guests.
Jon Keller is an American historian who had been staying at the hotel for a conference. His fellow delegates all chose to leave but he elected to stay behind, although it becomes increasingly clear that his choice was passively made at a time of immense confusion rather than due to a clear-headed weighing up of his options. Most of the book is seen from his perspective and is written as a journal - or as he prefers to think of it, a historical account, written in real time. The early entries are mostly quite brief as he writes about the weather, about his early interactions with his fellow guests and those aforementioned suicides but there is a sense of understandable detachment to them - because how are you supposed to act when the world ends?
He writes to stay alive, feeling that if he stops he'll lay down and end but when the body of a young girl is discovered in a water tank, it ironically gives him a sense of purpose as he questions whether one of the residents is a murderer and from here, his journal entries become much longer and more detailed. A murder in an isolated hotel with all of the guests as suspects is a classic locked-room mystery of course but to combine it with dystopian fiction takes things to a whole other level of tension and paranoia as the characters begin to form alliances with one another. Although Jon becomes almost obsessive about his investigation, it isn't really the main focus of the novel. What I found most engrossing was witnessing how a group of disparate people who are only together through circumstance adjust to the knowledge that they may be the last humans left alive.
As the days progress and they become more fearful of their supplies running out, they must decide whether to stay in the hotel where they have been relatively safe up to now or to take the risk of venturing outside to find out what  - or who - else has survived. The hotel has been their place of refuge for months so it's understandable that a sort of Stockholm Syndrome exists among some of them, particularly when they recognise that other survivors may be desperate and dangerous. Indeed, even among themselves, the pressure of being around people through necessity rather than choice leads to some highly stressful and emotional moments, especially when the issue of blame rears its head.
Hanna Jameson has written a thought-provoking novel which considers how the concepts of morality and justice can change under extraordinary circumstances; there are moments in The Last which become incredibly tense and it's striking just how quickly people become prepared to accept extreme violence as acceptable. Jon's initial recall of the day when the bombs hit is patchy, his mind perhaps protecting him from truly appreciating the full horror of what it means for the world. However, his memories gradually return and his journal switches between the increasingly fractious present and the immediate aftermath as he gradually makes sense of scenes which were just a blur at the time. I was always aware that my impression of the other residents was influenced by seeing them from Jon's point of view but nevertheless the depiction of each of them as plausibly flawed individuals meant it was fascinating to see how they each dealt with the pressures of the situation they find themselves in. Some are able to draw on their inner strength to become the leaders of the group whereas for others, the events seem only to highlight their shortcomings. However, the strongest still have their own moments of weakness and self-doubt and even at the points in the book where nerves are most strained, the responses of the various characters always feels authentic.
The Last is an engaging and intelligent dystopian thriller which looks at how humans react to being forced into making decisions when their options have becomes severely limited. The practicalities of their circumstances are complicated by the emotional instability of living through such a catastrophic event and it makes for a compelling read throughout. Despite the dark subject matter, I couldn't resist a wry smile at the references to the unnamed yet rather familiar US president who many of the guests hold ultimately responsible for nuclear war and was clearly a divisive figure across the world before his death... I suspect the ending may be rather divisive and there's certainly enough here for an intriguing sequel but if not then I rather enjoyed sharing the same sense of ambiguity as to what the future holds for humanity as the characters in the book. Highly recommended.

The Last is published in the UK by Viking (Penguin) and can be purchased from the following,
Amazon UK
Book Depository

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Hanna Jameson wrote her first book at the age of seventeen. Paul Rees of Q Magazine described her as writing like 'an angel on speed'. She has worked for the NHS and travelled the USA, Japan and Europe, developing a particular interest in the US, which led to her studying for a BA in American History. The Last is her first novel for Penguin.