Review: “The Last House Guest” by Megan Miranda

I almost went back for her. When she didn’t show. When she didn’t answer her phone. When she didn’t reply to my text.

The Last House Guest, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Megan Miranda
Publication Date: June 18th 2019
Publisher: Corvus
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Format: Paperback
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

The summer after a wealthy young summer guest dies under suspicious circumstances, her best friend lives under a cloud of grief and suspicion.

Littleport, Maine, has always felt like two separate towns: an ideal vacation enclave for the wealthy, whose summer homes line the coastline; and a simple harbor community for the year-round residents whose livelihoods rely on service to the visitors.

Typically, fierce friendships never develop between a local and a summer girl—but that’s just what happens with visitor Sadie Loman and Littleport resident Avery Greer. Each summer for almost a decade, the girls are inseparable—until Sadie is found dead. While the police rule the death a suicide, Avery can’t help but feel there are those in the community, including a local detective and Sadie’s brother, Parker, who blame her. Someone knows more than they’re saying, and Avery is intent on clearing her name, before the facts get twisted against her.

The Last House Guest is a smart, twisty read that brilliantly explores the elusive nature of memory and the complexities of female friendships. 

From Goodreads

Review

Miranda’s 2019 Thriller, The Last House Guest, evokes a warm, sandy breeze tainted with anticipation and bereft with suspicion. The small beach town of Littleport, Maine is an idyllic, quaint vacation spot – popular as an escape during the warm months then abandoned once the weather turns. But not all residents take flight for the winter, and the hardship breeds a special resilience. Avery, our main character, is one such character forged in extraordinary hardship, having lost her parents then her grandma in succession at a young age and finally left to fend for herself. Fortunately, the Loman family is there to catch her amongst her darkest days. This is thanks primarily to Sadie Loman, a young woman around Avery’s age who vouches for her and claims her a close friend after a chance introduction blooms into dear companionship. As she matures Avery remains year round and cares for the Loman’s properties, helping to manage accounts as the family flies with the changing seasons. But the one-year anniversary of Sadie’s sudden passing looms darkly over the town where Avery remains suspect and untold secrets bubble under the surface. Avery must decide who she can trust, where her loyalties lie, and what true foundation they’re based on.

I really enjoyed this book. The main conflict, of course, is the oddity of Sadie’s disappearance and the question of Avery’s possible role in it. At the time of Sadie’s passing in 2017 Avery is a prime suspect due to her darker past and the bizarre circumstances under which these two distinctly different people from disparate social standings became inseparable friends. The Loman family name holds weight in this town and power couple Grant and Bianca wield it shrewdly, as Avery learns when she starts to work for them. For some reason be it charity, loneliness, or something deeper, Sadie ‘elevated’ Avery to their circle where the two appear to be tight friends up until Sadie’s demise. The dark and judgmental assumptions about Avery of course feel a bit unfair since her social position and the trauma of suddenly losing her family are points against her, but as readers you can’t really validate whether Avery is trustworthy. It is admittedly unusual, too, that Sadie and Avery became friends but who can say whether it’s chance or contrived…

Jump forward to 2018 and the investigation has been mostly ruled a suicide, though nothing was proven and Avery is still suspect. A recent series of disturbing break ins at the Loman’s properties, however, shift the fine dust that had settled over the unclosed case and threatens to bring new information to light. Avery, being the property manager, investigates and begins to uncover fragments of what may have happened that night. She resolves to dig in wholeheartedly to clear her name and put Sadie to rest, but she must be careful with who she trusts lest a possible unknown actor silence her efforts permanently.

Structurally, past (2017) and present (2018) alternate in chunks, converging to the pinnacle of the story where the big reveal occurs. I found this well done, each section spanning some number of chapters and covering an important event instead of being limited to a particular chapter/page count. However I did find myself much more interested in one or other timeline as it went, so there’s an urge to speed through some sections. The reveal itself was surprising but disappointing since it felt crafted to be totally unexpected. Personally I find it less fun when the answer comes from left field and there’s no chance to have guessed at it.

Character-wise Avery felt the most fleshed out and so resonated the most. I wouldn’t say this book had strong character development, though. For instance we hear about Avery’s darker past but only get glimpses of her turning the corner. Others are mostly one-note or two-sided with no middle ground (e.g. we’re meant to think ‘are they actually nice/genuine or are they the darker conniving force behind all this?’). Parker Loman and Connor are two other characters that fall into this category where I wish they’d featured a bit more prominently as morally grey connections. Of course I was also half waiting for a rich bad-boy fling situation as well but c’est la vie ;P

On whole this was a good beachy read as we impatiently wait for spring to arrive (right? this can’t just be me :)), even better if you live in Maine I’d imagine. The atmosphere is breezy and brings to mind the feeling of walking through a quaint beach town, which is in contrast to the dramatic, suspenseful energy of the break-ins and murder mystery. There isn’t a whole ton of action, it’s more a gradual uncovering of the truth with the tension rooted in the time-sensitive nature of Avery’s investigation and uncertainty as to who is trying to hide what. This would be a good read for readers who don’t want a ton of jump scares but are into a dark mystery investigation.

TW: depression, suicide, cutting, abuse…

Background cover photo credit: Photo by Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

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