The Last Post by A.J Harlem

The Last Post by A.J Harlem
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (145 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Justice will be served.

DI Shona Williams knew her cold case would be a hard one to crack, but she hadn’t counted on it being so heart-wrenching. Resettling in Ironash has sent her emotions into overdrive, and vile, violent memories are flooding her brain.

But there’s a distraction she must attend to. A crazed killer is on the loose at a music festival. Bodies are being mutilated, young people targeted. But why, and who the hell would do such a thing?

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And he’s the Devil himself.

This is the second installment of the Ironash series and DI Shona Williams is settling in to returning to small-town life after a number of years at the Met. I enjoyed seeing this series unfold and was really pleased that this story could stand well by itself. With a number of regular characters – including her still-mysterious partner, DS Earle Montague I think readers will gain more from having read the first book but shouldn’t be worried about picking this up by itself.

This full length story has the solid feel of a British crime novel – with the wonderful aspect of regular, day-to-day life and the feel of a small, well-established community. I loved how this was strengthened by snippets like a quick sideline into some missing garden gnomes, or how everyone knew each other but still maintained some secrets. It really had the flavour and colour of normal, regular life and this both eased me and really excited me to keep reading more and more. Shona has her own – very personal and very secret – reasons for returning and I was delighted that more of this longer-term plot was parceled out. Again, I feel the author did an excellent job giving enough back-story to keep a new reader understanding the bigger picture, but progressed Shona’s private journey enough to keep me feeling like this particular sub-plot was moving forward and Shona was getting closer to her end-goal.

I also found the main plot – revolving around a bunch of college kids – both scarily realistic and something most readers could really sink their teeth into. Online bullying, the explosion of social media and literally everyone now having access to camera’s in their phone and instant gratification from the internet has shaped and changed much of the social landscape in the last decade. While bullying – and rude pictures, teasing and the pains of growing up – is not at all new, many of the difficulties young adults face nowadays is pretty extreme. The fact this novel touches on a number of these points was, I personally felt, very topical and brave.

I really enjoyed Olga’s character. While not comfortable, I felt the author did an amazing job making her both relatable but also realistic. I feel many readers might not be as sympathetic to her as I was, but I would be shocked if she didn’t at least start conversations and be the sort of character readers are eager to discuss with friends after finishing this story. Was her revenge and plan too extreme, even after the horrendous actions of her classmates? Were things like her mother’s mental health struggles or Olga’s own fascination with death and Gothic influence indicators or just another aspect of a confused teen trying to sort her life out? I could go on for hours hypothesizing and discussing various elements brought in on this story and feel there were an amazing number of layers and potential “paths not travelled” here. I truly feel there is something that would touch everyone to be found in this story and that is the mark of a great book – that almost anyone could read it and take something away that they feel the need to discuss and chew over when the story is finished.

I definitely feel that all readers will question how far is too much for enacting revenge like Olga did. Admittedly Olga most certainly crossed the line – but a strong part of me can’t blame her or think her evil for her actions. I absolutely think this is the sort of story that will start conversations, make people think and perhaps even shine a light on a real problem that many – if not most – people face at some point nowadays. And that, in my opinion, is the mark of a really great book. Something that makes you think and makes you want to discuss the plot and elements with friends and family.

With an interesting plot, some complicated characters and a lovely, very British small-town feel this is a great book and one I absolutely enjoyed.

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