The Last by Hanna Jameson
American and historian, Jon Keller, is attending a conference in Switzerland when the anticipated Apocalypse takes places. It’s nuclear war that gets us in the end. Most of the guests at L’Hotel Sixiéme flee in search of flights and trains home. But Jon finds himself stuck there with twenty others, both guests and staff. He worries for the safety of his wife and two young daughters, left behind in San Francisco, as it’s major cities that are being hit in the attacks. It’s not a good world that Jon Keller wakes to, the morning when it ends.
As he gets to know the remaining residents of the huge hotel, located as it is in a remote part of the land of cuckoo clocks, he fears for his safety. During an operation to adjust water tanks on the hotel roof, Jon and two others discover the body of a young girl in one of the massive vats. Given the location of the find, and the condition of the body, Jon is certain that the child was murdered. Further investigations, including an autopsy by a medical doctor, Tania, on site, convince him that the victim was murdered in or around the time of the global collapse. This means that the murderer could still be among them. Pressure on top of pressure.
Tomi is an American student completing her thesis, also caught at the same hotel as Jon. She once attended one of his history lectures. Tomi is attractive, confident and highly sexed. She is also interested in Jon. As the months progress, Jon finds himself feeling a strong urge to shag Tomi, even though the guilt would be tremendous. He’s a male after all and all of those lads think with their little heads anyway. Jon succumbs (or is that Tomi?). She proves to be a formidable ally, and it soon becomes apparent that everyone needs plenty of those as the future appears evermore bleak.
Dylan is a black German male who was head of security at the hotel. He too has a daughter, but she’s grown. He worries about her though. He also has concerns about the mental health, and eventual physical health, of those at the hotel under his charge. Unfortunately for Jon, Dylan does not seem to be sufficiently upset at the discovery of the girl’s body. There is also Dylan’s relationship with Sophia, the head chef and wife of the hotel owner, a shady man who has disappeared. Jon feels that Dylan and Sophia are hiding something but he is frustrated at every turn in his attempts to discover what it is. Did they murder the girl?
There are many other characters in the hotel although their numbers reduce as some decide they can’t go on and so take their own lives. Outside, clouds hide the sun and food becomes increasingly scarce. People live out there now, so soon after the collapse of society. There are rumours that some of them have turned to cannibalism, which just adds to the stress felt by the residents of the hotel, now a tenuous haven in a world of chaos.
Jon, as a historian, watches and records events for posterity even as he continues his thankless investigation of the girl’s murder. As the relationship structures within the hotel come under strain and then struggle to survive, Jon observes and wonders. Factions form. Women are wary as some men express an interest in reverting to pure Darwinism, take what you need whenever you need it regardless. It doesn’t bode well for the long-term.
When a small team, including Jon, sets out to find supplies, they encounter a couple who had been at the same conference as him. It’s then that everyone realises just how bad it has all gotten, and how bloody. Any weak illusions that the hotel group had about remaining safe from predation are shattered. But Jon also realises just how formidable Tomi is.
In less than three months, circumstances for the hotel survivors become evermore bleak. They realise that they have to leave their shelter or face starvation. Even the animals have abandoned the woods to the bandits. It’s crunch-time for Jon and his companions. They have become ruthless in their dealings within the group as, incrementally, they descend to the basic laws of survival. But Jon still sees the humanity within the group and struggles to ensure that his own inherent decency remains intact. He is also refusing to forget about the little girl, who becomes symbolic of his own two daughters, now lost to him.
The Last is a fine story. Set, as it is, in Switzerland, it makes a refreshing change from the regular Apocalypse stories that abound today. Although the global chaos presents a tough backdrop, the story is about the psychologies of those present at the hotel. The girl’s murder is a vehicle for exploring the psyches of the survivors as they fight to come to terms with all they have lost. In a world where society is gone, where entire families and communities have disappeared, is the murder of one child so important? When people decide that it isn’t, does that then reflect upon their lack of humanity? Is Jon a beacon of hope in a world of crumbling morality?
It’s an interesting take upon disaster. This is not the first time it’s been tackled, but it is an intriguing angle and the location really helps with that. It’s an inspired choice. This is Hanna Jameson’s fourth book and, based on this offering, Rebel Voice would certainly look up her others. The writing is strong. The plot is believable and well structured. The characters are consistent if a tad frustrating at times. But then again, who knows how you would react in an end-of-world scenario unless you’ve been there. Thankfully, only Noah and his family (biblical nepotism) can make that claim… or can they?
The intensity of the tale grows as the supplies dwindle and frictions become more pronounced. The murder of the child is never allowed to fall from our radar for long, Jon sees to that. But there are so many other issues at hand that it all gets overwhelming, as could be expected given the circumstances. Yet hope lives on. It struggles, it gasps for breath, but it survives. A chance set of events lend fuel to fan the flames of optimism. Will Jon and his companions make it out of the hotel alive, or will they fall at the final hurdle? Pick up The Last and find out.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. This is one to savour. It has all the components of your regular Apocalyptic novel, but works on a much more profound level. The reader gets to know the people and then watches, like Jon, how they deal with the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves. There is no one-dimensional figure in this story. It’s multi-faceted and attractive and should leave you with a smug feeling of satisfaction. Rebel Voice recommends this book and can only hope that should the end of the world occur, this book reviewer should find himself in a large and empty hotel in a remote part of Switzerland. The Overlook with cuckoo clocks and chocolate? That’ll do nicely, thank you.
(author, Hanna Jameson)