The Last Party is an intriguing whodunit that revolves around a celebration that’s to die for.
“Marcus” and “Harriet” have an amazing one night stand on New Year’s Eve. It’s a lovely way to pass the evening but both are determined that the relationship, such as it is, does not extend into the next day. He pretends he’s asleep when she wakes up. She leaves without saying goodbye at what is for her the crack of dawn. Once at home she discovers she didn’t get up quite early enough because she missed the traditional New Year’s Day morning swim in the freezing waters of Llyn Drych that most in her small village consider a must-do. That means it is her mam and sister who fill her in on the dead man found floating in the frigid lake that morning. As expected, she receives a call from her boss almost immediately after hearing the news. She’s needed at the morgue to help deal with the corpse.
Detective Constable Leo Brady of Cheshire Constabulary is shocked when he arrives at the morgue to find his lady love of the night before waiting for him. How had she found him? Detective Constable Ffion Morgan of North Wales Police is equally surprised to see him. How had he found her? It takes only a few moments to sort out that they had both given fake names (Marcus and Harriet respectively) and fake careers upon meeting each other the night before. Apparently, the only real thing about their encounter was the scorching sexual chemistry between them. Something they will definitely need to put aside if they hope to work together on the case before them.
It turns out that while the two of them were banging in the New Year, famous singer and local boy made good (well, rich anyway) Rhys Lloyd somehow wound up in the frigid waters of Llyn Drych instead of the massive, fancy party at his resort. Was it a suicide, an accident – or something far more sinister?
This being a mystery it is naturally the latter and it doesn’t take long for our two detectives to figure that out. I won’t go into the details of the plot because the joy of a suspense novel lies very much in the journey of discovery, but I will say that this book uses the layered effect: Leo and Ffion will discover something and think they have the answer but when they peel it back, there is more beneath. At the center lies vigilante justice – Rhys had managed to cheat, offend or injure pretty much everyone he knew and someone decided that it had gone on long enough.
The author handles that portion of the tale fairly well. While Leo and Ffion are the majority view points in the story, we also hear from Rhys’ business partner, his wife, his daughters, his neighbors and numerous villagers. I loved how these multiple perspectives gave us insight into who the victim was,how he fit into the world he lived in and why pretty much everyone might want to kill him! I also loved how it shows the interconnectedness of the small community – they’re dominoes, with the movements of one inevitably sending a ripple through everyone else.
The author also does a terrific job with the location. After winning a music award, Rhys had left the small, very picturesque Welsh town where he grew up and gone on to find fame and fortune in England. He has been back only a few times since but his most recent return was deeply controversial. Rhys built luxury estates on the shore of Llyn Drych and the villagers were none too pleased to have rich, English strangers move into the villas at The Shore. For their part, those strangers were none too pleased with the racist, classist attitude of the locals and the fact that the posh vacation homes they were promised are less than the ideal they’ve been sold. This tension and the issues behind it are captured perfectly here.
I also just absolutely loved Leo Brady. Recently divorced and the only Black man in the Cheshire Constabulary, he faces constant pressure both from his ex-wife and his racist boss. At the start of the story, he’s a rather shy, quiet guy who simply swallows whatever both of those people dish out to him. The fiery, strong Ffion helps him grow a backbone, essentially showing that he has the moral high ground in the relationships and should use it to his advantage. His growth is delightful to watch. It works in large part because Leo is very good at his job and very bright – he’s just allowed life to knock him around a bit. Once he’s got his footing, he’s amazing.
Leo’s relationship with Ffion is pretty much the same from beginning to end. They’re friendly but not intimate throughout the investigation and are just starting to explore the possibility of more when we leave them.
Speaking of Ffion, she represents pretty much everything I hate about fictional maverick cops. The law is very flexible as far as she’s concerned, more a tool to get her way than something that exists to protect and serve others, and throughout the investigation she tampers with evidence, goes rogue in talking to witnesses/suspects while often warning those she likes to mind themselves around Leo, and pretty much handles the inquiry in a manner which will ensure that the killer is brought to justice while no one she cares about is harmed when that happens. Like most of the villagers, she’s had a dust up with Rhys, and if she had had an ounce of integrity, she would have recused herself from the investigation. Instead she fights to stay on in order to ensure the outcome aligns with her desires. She’s not all bad – I loved her strength, resilience, tenacity and intelligence – but her lack of professional principles was a sore point for me.
In fairness, Ffion is a product of her environment. Pretty much every villager has a dark side and the intimacy forced by their cloistered living arrangement means that petty grievances often simmer beneath the surface, reaching a boiling point in a peevish, nasty way.
I also struggled with the victim blaming. While Rhys is assuredly a villain, I’m not sure he deserved what happened. As I said, most of the villagers are deeply flawed and while Rhys’ crimes are particularly heinous, I would have preferred legal ramifications to what actually occurred.
However, none of that detracts from the quality of the book. The mystery is perhaps stronger because of the murky questions of justice and how and when it should be meted out. It makes for an intriguing and thought provoking read.
In addition to my concerns about Ffion, The Last Party has two rather minor flaws that keep it from perfection. Some of the reveals simply didn’t make sense to me so I struggled to believe them, and the pacing at the beginning can be rather slow That said, this is a good mystery which revolves around some fairly bad people. I would recommend it to fans of the author or anyone who likes thinky thrillers.
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