Reviewed by Angela Marie
“I believe that a person can become possessed by someone else – at least in part. That one life can slip inside another, giving it shape. . It was how I could anticipate what she would do before she did it, because I believed I understood how she thought, and the push and pull that would lead her to any given moment – except her final ones.”
The Last House Guest is a contemporary psychological thriller, etched deeply with loss, the ultimate thief. Loss as a child, loss as a teenager, loss as an adult.
Avery Greer, as a rebellious and reckless teenager, finds salvation through her soul-binding friendship with Sadie Loman. Or does she? Sadie, daughter of the town’s real estate moguls and benefactors, the powerful Lomans, is deceased, on a beach below the cliffs. Visible by moonlight. Found by a passing dog walker. Or so we are told. On the night of the Plus One party. The age-old conundrum. Did she jump or was she pushed?
The verdict of suicide tears at Avery, not believing that Sadie would take that path. Avery doggedly searches, reasons, probes and dissects facets and fragments in her quest for answers. There are suspects. And Avery is on that list. Given her troubled past and quick temper, she must tear open the fabric of her town, save herself and seek justice for Sadie.
Or, as some conjecture, does Avery, to an extent cloned by Sadie, seek to replace her? The stakes are high, and, the money trail is hidden and protected. Almost. No one can outrun the past.
Author Megan Miranda has placed this tale in Littleport, a small town that swells during the summer months, spilling over with tourists and moneyed guests, then shrinking back to a bare existence during the harsh winters. The telling is evocative, from the glory of the last days of summer to the darkness and disturbance of winter. This all sealed in a bubble of suspicion, unease, distrust and motive. A toxic, dark underbelly lashed by the power of the ocean.
The threads are drawn around Avery, Sadie’s brother, Parker, Parker’s girlfriend, Luce, Connor, Avery’s childhood friend and sometime lover. Grant and Bianca, Sadie’s parents, are not above suspicion. No one is. Detective Ben Collins is ever present, watching, listening, questioning.
Megan Miranda is an exceptional writer, weaving this plot so meticulously that our predictions may be found wanting time and again. The feeling of menace is never too far away, and yet this is successfully sustained without melodrama or challenge. The author flips a coin and we see two sides of everything and everyone. We see the parallels between the built environment, wild nature and human behaviour. The author uses short and simple sentences to convey the immediacy and the danger. She intermingles these with meandering descriptions, but the short sentence is rarely far away.
The tale loops back and forth, with clarity, between Spring and Summer, 2017- 2019. All is told from the perspective of Avery, and all our information is channelled through her filter, and, in the telling, all characters are moulded and displayed as she reminisces years past.
The questions arise. How well do we know others? Can we create a monster? What is the nature of power? Is might transient? Can we simply make errors of judgement that we would desperately wish to undo?
The choice of title is subtle and fitting. And satisfying. This is a great read. A book hard to put down. An instant New York Times best seller. The author, Megan Miranda, exceeds my litmus test of “Do I want to read more of her works?”, and I absolutely do.
Kudos, too, to the designer of the cover. Beautifully tactile, we can trace the rain running down the window panes while the storm builds outside. As the plot builds within.
It is no surprise that Megan Miranda is a best-selling author. Her subjects explore the deep caverns of our emotions and minds. She writes for both young adult and adult readers. Megan is an MIT graduate from New Jersey, currently living in North Carolina with her husband and her two children.
The Last House Guest
By Megan Miranda
Corvus/ Allen & Unwin
ISBN 978 1 78649 291 3 (ppb)
ISBN 978 1 78649 292 0 (E-book)
336 pp; $29.99