The Last One Home
The Last One Home is an interesting combination of women’s fiction and thriller that manages to keep its pace tense and its characters interesting, and its unique premise makes it worth a look even though its conclusion is a bit forgone.
Influencer Lauren Abrams is returning home to the family’s California nest to help take care of her grandmother Elizabeth as she recovers from a stroke, and to look after the enormous house and ranch she lives in. Lauren has, for some time, felt like a little bit of an outsider in her own family, feeling that her father and grandmother both favored her step-siblings, so she’s pleased to learn that Elizabeth plans on selling her the house. Lauren really wants the place, but lacks the cash to buy it outright, so Elizabeth offers to sell it to her in a private deal with a payment plan, promising to give her father his share of the proceeds later.
The family’s history is rather twisted. Lauren’s father was accused of murder and her pregnant mother gave witness testimony that sent him to prison. All of that seemingly righted itself, though; when Lauren was ten, new evidence proved Lauren’s father’s innocence and pinned the crime on a notorious serial killer. Her father left the prison system, and after an erratic early childhood with her mother and a bitter period of shared custody, at thirteen, Lauren went to live with him and eventually changed her last name to his. Lauren keeps her distance from her mother, and their conversations end in screaming fights over her paternal grandmother and father. He’s since gotten married again and has two other children, and though the age difference between them is large, Lauren envies her younger half-siblings, who have had an involved and ‘present’ father throughout their whole childhoods. But clearly Elizabeth’s decision to sell Lauren the house is a gesture of reconciliation and things can begin anew, can’t they? To do just that Lauren begins to broadcast her renovation of the house of the internet.
Naturally, Lauren’s mother’s take on things is quite different. Back in 1985, thirty-five-year-old Donna Hempstead is living low on the hog – a punk with a crappy LA apartment but a cool boyfriend and a fun social life on the Strip. That her boyfriend is married and living in Sacramento is less than advantageous, but he’s still a good guy. When Donna turns up pregnant, Michael is excited at the prospect of a son, and promises to speed his ongoing divorce – which becomes difficult, as she threatens suicide. Or so Michael says. As Michael’s lies pile up, Donna must figure out whether or not to trust him.
When Lauren receives a threatening letter from the person who seems to be the serial killer who ruined her father’s life, she goes into panic mode, and must unravel the mystery behind her birth and her father’s life. Is her mother lying? Is her father telling the truth? Or is reality somewhere in between?
The Last One Home manages to pack some surprising twists between its covers. It gives us a pair of sympathetic though immature heroines, though I was more closely drawn to feisty and mostly-fearless Donna as she stomps her way through the novel in combat boots.
Lauren’s ex is the most complex of the male characters, while Michael ultimately comes off as a duplicitous rat even when the author tries to make him kinder. And then there’s Elizabeth, whose layers peel away to reveal something rather horrific.
The mystery itself is fairly mediocre, with the ultimate culprit coming off as an easy, law-of-character-economy choice. The atmosphere is perfectly drawn; all of Stone’s nights – black as midnight and chilling as a snowstorm – feel like they’ve emerged from a neon-drenched eighties noir.
The Last One Home will keep the reader guessing, though it doesn’t pop to life with the intensity of Stone’s other work.