Last One to Lie
I’ve been wanting to read Last One to Lie, the second novel by author J.M. Winchester, since I first read the blurb at the end of 2019. It looked like an intriguing story, but I was especially interested because Ms. Winchester also writes romance novels under the name Jennifer Snow. Since romance and thrillers are two of my favorite genres, I was eager to give the author’s work a try.
When Kelsey Jennings, a young mother who has recently moved to a new city, arrives at a local day-care to pick up her two-year-old daughter Mikayla, she’s flabbergasted to learn the little girl isn’t there. In fact, the day-care workers claim never to have laid eyes on Mikayla, something that makes absolutely no sense to Kelsey, who dropped her off there just a few hours earlier. She tries to call her husband at work, but is unable to reach him. When the police are called to uncover the truth about Mikayla’s disappearance, Kelsey is both hopeful and nervous since she has some pretty dark secrets she’s been keeping from everyone around her.
Detective Paul Ryan is not at all pleased to be assigned a missing person’s case, due in part to the unsolved disappearance of his sister fifteen years ago. Still, he’s a dedicated cop, so he vows to do whatever he can to ring Mikayla home safely. Unfortunately for Paul, his investigation into the lives of the Jennings family turns up far more questions than answers. It’s obvious Kelsey isn’t telling him everything, but he can’t figure out if her secrets have any bearing on what happened to Mikayla.
This is a difficult book to describe, since the more information I give you, the greater the risk of spoilers. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of both Kelsey and Paul, and the reader quickly learns not to take anything at face value. There are clues to the truth sprinkled throughout the pages, but many of them seem insignificant at the time and can be easily overlooked, so be vigilant as you read.
If you’re looking for a novel that accurately portrays the investigation into a missing child, Last One to Lie isn’t going to be the book for you. I don’t have first-hand experience with police work, but much of what the author describes here seems shoddy at best and inappropriate at worst. Still, it works to move the story forward, and with a book like this, that almost counts more than pitch-perfect accuracy.
Both Kelsey and Paul are deeply flawed protagonists, dealing with some dark emotional baggage. We gain quite a bit of insight into who they are as the story unfolds, but I was still left with a few questions at the end. Some of the loose ends felt intentional, but there were a couple I would have really liked to see wrapped up in a more satisfactory manner.
What I’ve said here might make you think this is a poorly written novel, but that’s not at all how I feel about it. It’s one of those books I absolutely could not put down, even though some of what goes on feels a little over the top. It’s pure escapist entertainment, especially if you prefer your entertainment on the darker side of the spectrum. It’s not a perfect book, but its flaws pale in comparison to its fast-paced twistiness. The end took me completely by surprise, and I’m eager to see what other thrillery goodness the author has in store for her readers.