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Review: The Last Train by Sue Lawrence

on February 15, 2018

The Last Train
Sue Lawrence
Allen & Unwin
2018, 342p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

At 7 p.m. on 28 December 1879, a violent storm batters the newly built iron rail bridge across the River Tay, close to the city of Dundee. Ann Craig is waiting for her husband, the owner of the largest local mill, to return home. From her window Ann sees a strange and terrible sight as the bridge collapses, and the lights of the train in which he is travelling plough down into the freezing river waters.

As Ann manages the grief and expectations of family and friends, amid a town mourning its loved ones, doubt is cast on whether Robert was on the train, after all. If not, where is he, and who is the mysterious woman who is first to be washed ashore?

In 2015, Fiona Craig wakes to find that her partner Pete, an Australian restaurateur, has cleared the couple’s bank account before abandoning his car at the local airport and disappearing. When the police discover his car is stolen, Fiona conducts her own investigation into Pete’s background, slowly uncovering dark secrets and strange parallels with the events of 1879.

This was an interesting book….and I mean that in two ways. The first way is interesting as in really compelling. It starts with the most amazing scene of Ann Craig, awaiting her husband’s return from a visit to his aunt. There’s a raging storm and she quite literally sees the train her husband should be on plunge into the river when the bridge collapses. There are no survivors and the conditions are quite impossible. Basically all loved ones can do is wait until the bodies start to appear.

Ann and her husband do not have a happy marriage and her primary concern is fear for her future when she sees the train go into the river. Although married to a wealthy man, she has no wealth of her own. But as the days pass and his body is yet to be recovered, it has to be questioned if he was even on the train. And if he wasn’t, then why not? And where is he?

In the modern day part of the story, Fiona Craig discovers that her Australian partner Pete has vanished. She’s already lost one partner, her husband, to cancer. And now Pete, who has wormed his way into not only her heart but that of her young son as well, has left too, but voluntarily. Fiona has to move back in with her parents and finds that she cannot let the idea of Pete go. She’s determined to find out where he went and why he left them.

Both of these stories start off in ways that suck you straight into the story. I started reading this before I had to go pick up my kids one day – my husband was at work so I had to take a bus to get them and I honestly could not put it down and ended up taking it with me on the bus to read and also reading it at the school while I waited for them to finish. Both of the stories were such great mysteries – was Robert really on the train? Is he dead? If not, why wasn’t he? Where is he? He must know of the train’s demise and that his family thinks he’s possibly dead. And why would Pete just vanish from such a happy life? Good relationship, excellent job that was really starting to get him noticed. Fiona is so completely baffled – it seems they had no real issues leading up to Pete’s abrupt departure although when she starts to look into it, contacting previous work places etc, she is told some things that really make her questions what Pete has told and and also the sort of person that he was.

And then there’s the other sort of interesting that this book was….which was a bit less positive in that both of these mysteries had such great set ups for me, they also both had really disappointing conclusions. In the case of Ann, her story escalates so quickly it’s almost dizzying and then some of the most important stuff happens off the page and you only get one scene that kind of wraps everything up and tells you her fate but in a kind of unsatisfactory manner. In Ann’s actions, I can well understand her motivation. Women had so few rights in those days, even over their own children. And for all her faults, Ann did love her children. It’s quite sad that she did something so desperately to preserve her relationship with them that in the end, didn’t have the intended effect. Her planning was poor however and I found her resolution probably realistic but quite disappointing and a little depressing.

The resolution of Pete was probably for me, the weakest part of the entire story. I was really looking forward to some answers about Pete and it seems as if we get some and everything is resolved – only for once again, something to be alluded to and then it skips forward to an ‘after’ and the explanation is both disappointing and lacking in any impact whatsoever. It should’ve been a very powerful part of the story but instead I had to go back and read it again because I thought I’d missed something major – but no, it was just basically that vague. It left me kind of shaking my head because it had been such a good chunk of this story and the ideas were there but….the execution just left me wanting more. A lot more.

I did enjoy this – loved the setting, loved the way the two mysteries were woven. I just think that the resolutions needed a bit more thought and just a little bit more page time. But it was still a good read.

7/10

Book #28 of 2018

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