Book Title: Last Words
Author: Michael Koryta
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Source: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Page Count: 420
Audience: Those who love a good mystery and/or caves.
Buy? Read? Avoid?: Buy
Summed up in one word: Claustrophobic
First Impression: I had never heard of Michael Koryta before his latest paperback was sent to me for review. I am glad I had the opportunity to read his work as I will now quite happily binge myself on all of his previous works. Koryta used some great ideas and a fine tuned writing style to provide us with Last Words. This is a dark, cold, claustrophobic thriller with some real grit and badassery thrown in. I didn't really appreciate the subject of caves before this book, now I will tread lightly.
Summary Of The Book:
Mark Novak is a private investigator for a legal firm who specialise in fighting for the wrongly accused. After Novak's wife Lauren is taken from him by an unknown assailant, he goes into a tale spin trying to find out who did it and why. He is saved by his friend and boss Jack who sends him to Garrison, Indiana to cool off while his firm Innocence Inc decide his fate.
Novak is sent to Indiana to look into a letter sent by a Ridley Barnes, who was a prime suspect in a murder 10 years ago that went cold due to lack of evidence. Not a traditional case for the firm and only there to waste time until he hears back from his boss, Novak pokes around halfheartedly into the case not really expecting any results. A visit to Ridley himself reveals what really happened all those years ago. Sarah Martin, a teenage girl, went missing in a cave network called Trapdoor while working a summer job there. A search team went in, but as Trapdoor is infinitely large and mostly unmapped, they had no luck. Until the sheriff made a call to send Ridley in to find her as he knew the caves better than anyone. A few days later Ridley emerges from the cave almost dead with the corpse of Sarah Martin and no recollection of how he got back out from the darkness.
Novak's interest is peaked, but not enough to make him jump right into this case. Ridley Barnes wants to know if he killed her or not, but the town want Marcus Novak out of Garrison. They want him out for good. What follows is kidnapping, torture, darkness, madness, violence and many other evils. Mark may not care about Sarah's death, but he wants to know who wants him dead and why this town seems to be protecting their lead suspect from any harm or punishment.
I always struggle with the summary in my reviews as I get over excited and spoiler heavy. Don't worry though, if I gave anything away it was a fraction of what this book has to offer. I have read great books from Hodder & Stoughton and this is no exception.
This author has gotten a lot of praise already for previous work so I had high standards and for the most part these were met, very well. This book is medium to long in length and has a lot of plot and characters packed into its pages.
First of all the story. I have read the 'wife killed mysteriously' plot quite a few times, luckily it is very much a sub plot here, that is not to say that Koryta's version of this tale isn't good, it definitely adds to plenty to Novak. It is the main plot line that makes this story worth reading. Garrison, Indiana is a formidable terrain (especially compared to sunny old England). Both the weather and the population are cold as ice. I found the tight nit community frustratingly smart, Koryta dished out the plot perfectly, having people reveal a new piece of the overall picture every time Novak manages to win them over. The other half of this tale (and also quite a relevant character) is Trapdoor. A cruel and amazing network of caves underneath garrison where only a handful of people truly reign supreme. To begin with I found the cave parts disorientating, but once I got my bearings it was an exhilarating and fearsome experience. There was very little I had to complain about here, the hypnosis parts did not really appeal to me, though they were relevant and provided the author with some breathing room with his explanation.
Characters!! There are a plenty. Most notably you have Marcus Novak. The Hero. The Badass. The Idiot....at times. I enjoyed my time with Novak, he was lazy and tragic to begin with. As soon as people started messing with him it became clear that he is not a pushover and has a lot to offer in his role as the hero. Ridley Barnes is also a great character to me. It is unclear from start to (almost finish) what he is actually capable of and what his overall plan is, this provides the mystery element to this story along with his best friend and main anti-hero Trapdoor. I agree that Trapdoor is a character more than a setting. We as the reader spend about 1/3 of the book inside the caves, upside down, scared, claustrophobic and sweaty. Sarah's death is a big part of the plot and that is connected to the Trapdoor. Now everyone beyond these 3 are relevant, complex and intriguing. They are also frustrating, annoying and confusing at times. You can pick and chose.
My favourite part was Novak's kidnapping and subsequent escape from Trapdoor, it really highlighted the authors attention to detail and chilling/intense writing style. My least favourite element was the hypnosis parts, I found them boring, difficult to care about and though they added to the story I felt they were a fraction to far fetched for the believable essence this book has. Last Words has plenty of themes included and spread out within the pages. Koryta must have added about 100 additional pages to this book just to give him room to convey these themes. There is loss and grief for Novak's wife. There is darkness, madness and uncertainty for Ridley Barnes. Other themes include violence, pain, community and spirituality, these come in the forms of Trapdoor and Garrison.
Overall I loved this book. I read it in 2 (very long) sittings and barely lost my momentum. There is a lot offered to the reader in Last Words, especially a sequel which I was treated to an excerpt from at the end of this book. Michael Koryta is absolutely worth checking out and I look forward to reading all of his back catalogue.
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