Reviewed by Rod McLary
J. P. Pomare has now written four novels – each a psychological thriller – and while different from each other in critical ways, they also have elements in common. Not the least of which are the protagonists’ subterfuge and obfuscations, and their blurring of the line between truth and fiction.
The epigraph to the latest book – a quote from the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window – provides a clue to what may lie ahead as the story unfolds: That’s a secret, private world you’re looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private they couldn’t possibly explain in public. This may well be a word of advice to the reader as s/he gets ready to become immersed in the world of The Last Guests – or is it an invitation for the reader to self-reflect?
From the first sentence of the Prologue – He is anybody, everybody, nobody  – the reader is drawn into a world of secrets, lies and deceit. This person is entering a house, not his own, to install cameras ‘about the size of a pen nib’  in various places through the house – all of which will live-stream any activity to a streaming service called Peephole. Here and there through the novel, there are extracts from messages the subscribers to Peephole exchange with each other as in – We have action on Cam 1. Clearly their first time together. . For the astute reader, there are clues scattered among these extracts which offer some clarity to what transpires through the story.
In The Last Guests, the protagonists are Lina and Cain. Lina is a para-medic and Cain an ex-SAS soldier who saw duty in Afghanistan and still wears the emotional and the physical scars. They live in suburban Auckland. Both Lina and Cain want to start a family but this is proving more difficult than they would hope.
So where do they both fit into this story? First, Lina’s grandfather owned a house by a lake in the New Zealand countryside – now belonging to Lina – which Cain believes they should offer as a WeStay house [akin to Airbnb] to provide them with some much-needed income. Second, Lina and Cain want to have a child but there are problems in conceiving so Lina devises a solution to this which involves another WeStay house. Cain has his own reasons for wanting the lake house to be a WeStay house which he is not sharing with Lina, and, in turn, Lina is not sharing with Cain her solution for their failure to conceive.
Thus, the scene is set. Inevitably, the two secrets will collide. But the journey to the collision is filled with tension, psychological thrills and edge-of-the-seat action – and there are some twists which are unexpected and add more than a frisson of excitement.
As in all such novels, there is some requirement for a suspension of disbelief. It is not just to add depth to the characters that Lina is a paramedic and Cain was a SAS soldier. Their respective skills are called upon more than once through the course of the story – particularly Lina’s and not always in the line of duty. There are also a couple of deaths which are not easily explained away.
But the references to the present and past life of an SAS soldier, the life of a paramedic and the ‘dark web’ where Peephole may well have a place have been meticulously researched and this detailed knowledge adds an authenticity to the story which is not always the case with other thrillers.
J P Pomare has crafted a well-paced psychological thriller which taps into our fears of the advancing tsunami of technology and specifically our concerns of constant surveillance. Anyone who has stayed in a hotel somewhere in the world would recognise the anxiety around the possibility of cameras lurking in the ceiling. The Last Guests is an exciting read and is highly recommended.
The author’s previous novels Call Me Evie, In the Clearing and Tell Me Lies [all reviewed in these pages by this reviewer] have been both bestsellers and critically acclaimed. The Last Guests more than comfortably takes its place alongside them.
The Last Guests
by J. P. Pomare
ISBN 978 18697 1818 3