The Last by Hanna Jameson

January 25, 2019

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead

Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

I think, for many, the premise of The Last by Hanna Jameson is the stuff of nightmares. You’re away from home, far from family and friends, and a nuclear war breaks out. Quickly news dries up. The media, traditional and social, disappear and you’re on your own. The interconnectedness of the 21st century is no longer available. The only people with you are strangers and they are all suffering through exactly the same traumatic event as you. Your comfortable life is gone, suddenly survival and safety are paramount. Who can you trust? Will any help arrive? Is there even anyone left out there who could help?

Jon Keller finds himself in this exact situation. Trapped in the Swiss Alps while various factions in the outside world attempt to blow one another to Hell. Jon’s default reaction to the situation is to stick with what he knows. He is a historian, he knows the importance of chronicling events. The mystery of a dead girl in the hotel gives him the perfect opportunity to play to his own strengths. Having a task he can focus his entire attention on means he can ignore the larger picture. Events unfolding outside of the immediate area are pushed to one side. Jon doesn’t need to dwell on what might be happening elsewhere. For him, this is the perfect coping mechanism.

The setting adds an additional layer of tension, and depth, to proceedings. A lonely hotel, isolated from the rest of the world, is a perfect breeding ground for secrets. There is a history of dark deeds associated with the building and even a suggestion of the supernatural. Each day without news of the outside world ensures the survivors become that little bit more withdrawn, a little bit more introverted. Tempers begin to fray and as the collective cabin fever of the group continues to grow you get a real sense that it is only a matter of time before something else terrible is going to happen. The murder feels like it is just to tip of the iceberg. A group of strangers forced together in an extraordinary set of circumstances ensures that everyone is a suspect.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, or The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. I was also reminded of The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters. The Last explores some similar themes; if society as we know it is coming to an end, then is there any point uncovering the truth behind a crime. Does justice even matter anymore? Jon certainly thinks the answer is a resounding yes. So much so, it becomes his obsession. The problem with obsessions is they have a tendency to become all consuming.

Why am I constantly drawn to apocalyptic fiction? I think The Last by Hanna Jameson answers this question in the most elegant manner possible. Reading about the end of the world is a constant reminder of how fragile humanity is. Our existence is a fleeting, ephemeral affair and this particular sub-genre of fiction shines a light directly at that fact. It may seem a little strange, but I find that oddly hopeful. Of course there is the trauma of the initial event, death and destruction at every turn. After that though, when the dust has settled, there are a myriad of possibilities. When I read about everything ending, it inevitably makes me think about what comes next. Jameson’s narrative hints at exactly that. Once the immediacy of the current situation is resolved what will become of Jon and the other survivors? Can society rebuild or even evolve into something better? This is why I find apocalyptic fiction so insightful, it highlights the best and worst of human nature.

The musical recommendation to accompany The Last continues the apocalyptic theme. The Last of Us (volume 2) by Gustavo Santaolalla has a haunting, desolate air that perfectly captures the tone that I think The Last is trying to convey.

The Last is published by Viking and is available from 31st January. Highly recommended.

One Comment

  • russell1200 December 17, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Her modern Noir novels, written when she was younger, are very good. I have read 2 of the 3 and they make up a loose series.

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