The Last Trace by Petronella McGovern

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Previously I have not had the pleasure of reading any of the work by Australian author, Petronella McGovern, and found her latest book, The Last Trace, to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I have since discovered that Petronella’s first novel, Six Minutes, was published in July 2019 and debuted on the Australian best-seller list. The Last Trace is her fourth novel and has a publishing date of July 2024. Her earlier adventures, which included working on a summer camp in America and travelling in eastern Africa, have inspired parts of her latest novel.

This book is about family relationships and the personalities found therein. Birth order often dictates the perceived obligations placed on family members. The reader is firstly introduced to Lachy, the second child, who has become a hero for his actions during a fierce storm. Yet Lachy cannot remember anything about it.  His son Kai, who is spending time with his estranged father, calls his aunt Sheridan because of his concern for his father. She is the one who will sort things out.

Lachy has been asked to provide a DNA sample from someone he once knew regarding a paternity issue. Once again, he cannot remember much about his relationship with this girl. While the storyline follows Lachy in his search to fill in some of the blanks in his life and fulfill his obligations as a father, the reader is given another story about a young girl in America, from a very strict religious family who falls in love, becomes pregnant then disappears. At first, this tale does not seem to have any relevance to Lachy and his family, but this author has a cleverly crafted plan and as the reader continues through the story, they discover that this narrative is a very important part of the whole plot.

There are many twists and turns in this story so that the reader often finds their minds wandering off to where they think the story is going only to find a dead end. Many of the characters are not as they first appear to be, yet nothing seems superfluous. This story becomes a murder mystery, as there are several unsolved cases in America of young pregnant women who have met an untimely death. But what does this have to do with Lachy and his family in Australia?

This book covers many situations that families find themselves in during their lifetime. There is the teenager who wants to be accepted in his peer group and believes he must follow a particular path to achieve this. In doing so, he creates a possibly life-threatening situation. There are boys who grow up with little contact with their biological fathers. Also, there are inappropriate behaviours, religious influences and concerns for global warming in particular parts of the globe. But family solidarity and concern for others also shines through. In this story it includes the extended family in many of its facets.

My feelings as a reader were torn as each new revelation appeared.  The individuals in this family were easy to like throughout all their struggles. I felt for their confusion, fear, joy, frustration and final relief when at the end of the book everything falls neatly into place.

I read in the Acknowledgements part of the book, that the name for this novel had been auctioned off to raise money for the town of Lismore after the devastating flood. The winner was Fiona Taylor a writer, podcaster and book clubber (356). McGovern suggests that Taylor’s husband Brendan could find himself as a character, setting up a boutique distillery in one of her books. That would be something to look forward to.

I have no hesitation in recommending this latest story by Petronella McGovern with its modern themes, interesting characters and suspenseful situations.

The Last Trace


by Petronella McGovern

Allen & Unwin


$32.99; 367pp


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