The Last Girl to Die by Helen Fields – a crime thriller exploring the darkness of island life

The Last Girl to Die by Helen Fields

Sadie Levesque is a private investigator who specialises in tracing troubled teenagers. Her current assignment takes her to the isolated and stormy Isle of Mull, and it will test her skills and experience to the limits. This is a chilling and convincing novel that will linger in the mind in its powerful descriptions not only of crimes committed but of the brooding atmosphere of a population in crisis. Sadie is not only trying to solve crimes that occur as she works furiously to discover what is really going on, but also deal with the terrible background of past suffering.  This book has much to say about the problems of an enclosed community affected by the traditional roles allotted to women clashing with the incoming pressures of twenty first century life. It blends the dangers of contemporary technology with the age-old practices which affect young women in particular. The character of Sadie is of a resourceful and committed woman who must make impulsive and well thought out decisions to expose the truth and indeed to survive. I found it a haunting book which was so well written as to be memorable in a good way, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The novel opens with the startling sentence “Finding Adriana Clark’s body was a shock, but not a surprise”. Most of this novel is narrated by Sadie, and accordingly we have the benefit of an outsider’s view of a closely knit island community. Not that the portrait of the main protagonist is one dimensional; she is given an effective back story of family and background in Canada which gives her a fascinating perspective on the situation on the island. It emerges that she has been engaged by the American Clark family to find their teenage daughter after the island’s police force led by the abrasive Sergeant Harris Eggo dismissed their fears. The family have relatively recently arrived on the island to live and have already realised that their presence is not really welcomed, and that Rob and Isabella, with their twins Adriana and Brandon and small daughter Luna have been viewed with suspicion if not actual dislike. Accordingly, Sadie’s discovery of the girl’s body in disturbing circumstances upsets the status quos significantly, and the police choose to deny her any information or cooperation in her continued investigations. It is Eggo’s decision to dismiss the teenager’s death as the act of a visitor to the island, an outsider who has already departed. Some features of the way that the body is left seem to connect to previous atrocities on the island surrounding the silencing of women, and Sadie discovers that the young women have come under pressure over decades to conform to various limitations. She has managed to establish a connection with the pathologist Nate Carlisle and is thus able to obtain some information from him below the radar. He is based on the mainland, and for much of the narrative Sadie is on her own on an island which has hostile forces at work and with no official backup. It soon becomes obvious that the Clark family is not all that it seems, and indeed many of the people she encounters have their own, sometimes dangerous, secrets.

This is a book which is incredibly difficult to put down, as it is well paced and contains many twists, turns and surprises. It is a book that I found enthralling and fascinating, and the main characters very well drawn. The island setting is brilliantly captured in the physical, emotional and spiritual sense, and some interesting points are made about the expectations for young people on the island. This is a crime mystery novel with great depth, and I recommend it as an affecting thriller.