Title: Last Seen Alive
Author: Claire Douglas
Published: July 31st 2017
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Crime, Psychological, Suspense, Thriller
Libby Hall never really wanted to be noticed. But after she saves the children in her care from a fire, she finds herself headline news. And horrified by the attention. It all reminds her of what happened nine years ago. The last time she saw her best friend alive.
Which is why the house swap is such a godsend. Libby and her husband Jamie exchange their flat in Bath for a beautiful, secluded house in Cornwall. It’s a chance to heal their marriage – to stop its secrets tearing them apart.
But this stylish Cornish home isn’t the getaway they’d hoped for. They make odd, even disturbing, discoveries in the house. It’s so isolated-yet Libby doesn’t feel entirely alone. As if she’s being watched.
Is Libby being paranoid? What is her husband hiding? And. As the secrets and lies come tumbling out, is the past about to catch up with them?
Claire Douglas first came to my attention when I read and thoroughly endorsed her book, Sisters. Since then, I have also read Local Girl Missing, which I recall as being one of my favourite psychological thrillers of last year. Douglas is back with another jam packed twisty thriller, Last Seen Alive. This time around, Douglas presents the reader with a house swap situation gone terribly wrong.
Libby Hall is a teacher, who recently hit headlines after she saved a student from a fire that engulfed the school where she works. Libby is happily married to husband Jamie, but with the fire, a recent miscarriage and pressures from Jamie’s loved ones, the need to escape everyday life seems like the perfect idea. When a timely request for a house swap comes through Libby and Jamie’s mailbox, they are quick to take up this offer. Exchanging their claustrophobic little flat in Bath, for a sprawling Cornish country retreat, the couple seem happy and ready to heal. However, the idyllic house has many shocking secrets to reveal, which shakes this already fragile couple to their core. When Jamie is hospitalised for food poisoning, Libby is left alone in the house. The experience unnerves her and she constantly feels like she is being watched by someone. Then thoughts of the past begin to return, of a tragic event that Libby has been unable to shake. When paranoia begins to plague Libby she doesn’t know who to trust, even her husband.
Last Seen Alive really begins with a bang. The prologue offers the reader a shocking interlude into what is ultimately to come. It certainly worked to hook me into this novel from the very beginning. Douglas has the perfect formula at her disposal when it comes to delivering quality psychological thrillers and Last Seen Alive is a book that engaged me from start to finish.
Douglas takes on the idea of a house swap, or an air b&b gone wrong in her latest novel. Air b&b’s aren’t really the rage here in Australia, but it was a different concept to explore. Although I did feel like Libby and Jamie grabbed a hold of this opportunity passing through their mail a little too blindly. I’m not quite sure I would be quite as naive as this couple. Mind you, the recent stresses on their marriage may help to explain their desperation and willingness to take up this offer so readily. As soon as the action moved from Bath to Cornwall, I felt a quick breath of fresh air and I hoped that this experience would invigorate to troubled young couple. However, the direction soon took a sinister turn, as the picturesque Cornish property offers up some shocks and secrets. Douglas uses this early section of the novel to highlight a strong sense of place. Although I have visited Cornwall in the past, I wasn’t familiar with the Roseland Peninsula. Through the descriptions of this area Douglas offers the reader, I had a solid picture in my mind of this stunning British coastal locale, it seemed a shame when things turned nasty at the lovely Cornish abode! Likewise, when the book moves to Bath, an area I feel fortunate to have visited in the past, I felt like Douglas knew this area inside out.
Claire Douglas really serves up some complex and fascinating characters in this novel. Each character has their own secrets, along with questionable pasts and we are never quite sure who to trust. Last Seen Alive takes the unreliable narrator scenario to the next level, as I actually wasn’t sure if I could trust any of the characters that appeared in this novel. I initially liked Libby, being in the same profession as her, I could sympathise with her quite easily. However, the novel took an almighty shift around the half way point, which worked to change my opinion of Libby. Jamie, Libby’s husband, is a well drawn protagonist. I alternated my feelings and trust towards this man as the novel went on. I was very suspicious of Jamie in his relationship with family friend Hannah and when the kindly old neighbour Evelyn hinted that Jamie might have been keeping secrets from Libby, I did begin to doubt him. The entry of two figures from Libby’s past ramps the narrative up significantly. It leaves the reader reeling, trying to untangle the web of lies and deceit that has become entrenched over a ten year period.
Last Seen Alive is structured into three main components. The first tells of Libby and Jamie in the current day, as they take their house swap vacation, which turns sour in Cornwall. The narrative then travels in the past to Thailand, ten years ago. This follows Libby’s backpacking adventures with Beth, another young woman who Libby befriends, but we learn sadly perished in a backpacker hostel fire. The experience haunts Libby for years to come. The third and final segment of the novel takes the action back to Bath, as Libby and Jamie deal with the after effects of their brief but unnerving stay in Cornwall. When we finally reach the epilogue, a final and unexpected blow is delivered, leaving the reader shaking their head in utter disbelief!
I guarantee Last Seen Alive will make you woozy with the amount and calibre of twists it delivers, all within one shocking tale. Expect to be thrilled, chilled and to experience that deep in the pit of your stomach style of dread that comes with reading a solid thriller. Last Seen Alive is a plot driven novel that comes with some clouded characters and plenty of paranoia. I enjoyed this novel immensely and I now have to contend with a significant wait for the next Claire Douglas novel to be released!
Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas was published on July 31st 2017 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Last Seen Alive, Claire Douglas, visit here.