NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK // REVIEW BY ANDREW SMITH
There are few locations that lend themselves as well to noir crime as Scotland's island communities, and Mull is no exception. Helen Fields brings a nightmare vision of it to life in The Last Girl to Die.
What unfolds is the pacey and gripping tale of private investigator Sadie Levesque heading to a painfully claustrophobic and isolated version of the island in a bid to uncover what has happened to seventeen year old Adriana Clark.
Everyone seems to be hiding something, including Adriana's parents, who have swapped successful city lives in the United States for the windswept and weary sights of this lonely Scottish island.
Having been let down by the local police force and many of the people around them, Adriana's parents have been left with little choice other than to look to a fellow outsider like Sadie Levesque, who they found online and have called over from Canada to help them.
The ‘fish out of water in a close knit and secretive rural community’ premise may not be the most original, but the story that follows is a well crafted one that is full of twists, turns, intrigue and suspense.
We are not long into the book by the time that Adriana's body has been found. Only partially hidden in a cliffside cave, Sadie earns the ire and suspicion of locals by being the one that finds it.
Unfortunately, the eerie location and the violent, ritualistic and torturous way in which her murder has been inflicted leave just as many questions as answers.
Why has she been left where she has? Why has she had her throat filled with sand and a seaweed crown carefully placed upon her head? And, most importantly, will there be more deaths to come?
A foreboding sense of isolation drips from almost every page in a book that revels in the isolation of its setting and its protagonist.
Nothing is ever straightforward in the investigation, and it soon becomes apparent that nobody can be trusted, including Adriana's brother or her parents. As the story unfolds, we see myth, legend and history playing an increasingly prominent role.
Despite some reservations about depictions of mental health, the cast of characters is well written and judged, and introduced at the right pace.
The willingly obstructive and compromised police force provides a perfect foil for Sadie, with senior officers doing more to hamper the investigation and erect barriers than they do to solve the crime.
Sadie herself is an engaging presence and sympathetic narrator. In a genre that is all too dominated by gritty men, she provides a stark contrast and is able to explain her often impulsive and reckless decisions well.
Perhaps the strongest character is the island itself, which is brought to life by Fields' vivid depictions and the unsettling atmosphere that she achieves throughout.
A lot of the book’s lasting impression will depend on a reader’s view of its ending. For me it worked very well and provided a logical if surprising end to a journey that I very much enjoyed. I'm not totally sure that it made me want to rush over to Mull though.
The Last Girl to Die | By Helen Fields | 376 pp. | Avon | Paperback £7.99