American historian Jon Keller is stranded in a Swiss hotel along with 20 others after nuclear explosions destroy much of the United States. A dystopian nightmare follows, but Keller's first thought is shame that he ignored his wife's last text message. Then, his thoughts turn to survival--and an unexplained death. The Last by Hanna Jameson (Something You Are) is a murder mystery cloaked in a brisk post-apocalyptic thriller.
As weeks pass, Keller chronicles the group's struggle in a journal he cannot know will ever be read. "History is only the sum of its people and, as far as I know, we could be the last ones," he writes. Then, on the 50th day, the body of a young girl is discovered in a rooftop water tank. Keller becomes obsessed with her death and decides to uncover the murderer, who must be among them, he thinks. "My trust with the group is fractured.... Everyone now is a potential suspect."
The Last is elevated from a typical closed-room murder mystery to something more existential. As time goes by, the once orderly group begins to disintegrate, individual survival is paramount, and Keller, anguishing over the fate of his family in the U.S, finally decides, "They couldn't be what preoccupied my mind. They weren't here. It was only myself I had to keep alive." Readers of Ben Winters's Last Policeman trilogy will enjoy this, and may want to revisit William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the modern classic story of civilization vs. individual survival.
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