Author: Taylor Adams
Taylor Adams has proven himself yet again in The Last Word; he is a master of the thriller, of the suspenseful, twisting narrative with shocks and surprises, of deeply wounded yet empathetic characters caught in wildly escalating situations that, somehow, we breathlessly believe.
In this story, we have an ominous grey beach, waves pounding relentlessly on shore. It’s off season, only a few residents remain. Among them is Emma and her dog, Laika. Emma is house-sitting, and she likes the solitude, the aloneness. It’s perfect for what she has in mind. Her days are spent reading bad e-books. Her nights are spent failing to sleep, imagining figures with fedoras standing in the corners. Sometimes, she plays hangman with her neighbor, using the telescope and a whiteboard. Her voice is out of use. Even the friendly neighbor is not allowed to visit.
Emma is steadily declining. Grieving over her loss. She has a backpack filled with rocks. She has a plan, but she’s not quite ready. All this changes one day when she leaves a one-star review of one of her bad e-books and the author claps back. The author’s anger escalates, and soon Emma is forced to fight for the life she thought she didn’t want, to fight to keep her dog alive, to work through her trauma and survive the longest, loneliest, bloodiest night. It’s a story to die for.
I’m a long-time book reviewer (I’ve been reviewing steadily since I was 17, making it 18 years of reviewing now across three main platforms – Readers Lane, Epinions.com, and Amazon.) During this time, I’ve had my fair share of crazy author encounters, run into spoofer accounts, dealt with “neganating,” received personal threats over low star ratings and opinions, and even been threatened with litigation, so this tale was a much-appreciated dive into the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of book reviewers (and what we put up with dear reader!). Mind you . . . I’ve never had a mad author go quite this far, and that’s what makes the story good – taking the believability one extra step into insanity and massacre. Reviewers beware! (I’m also an author, with a few published things out there, so I also know the intense pain of seeing a bad review.)
As with No Exit, the first Taylor Adams book I read, the story works on two levels. By the time the action starts, we’re already attached to Emma and curious about her. Her trauma isn’t as straight forward as it appears (honestly, it’s far more heartbreaking than I had imagined), and the brief flashbacks to her husband and life before the beach house strike a chord in our hearts. By the time her review goes live and the angry author begins his assault, we have fully bought in. We care about Emma. We want to save her. We want to see her forgive herself. We want to see her survive, to come back from the edge stronger, to move on.
And then . . . then the horror starts. The villain is very well rendered, and the story is told in a dual voice – through the author’s next book, based on “real” events and through Emma’s eyes. It’s a cool narrative switch, one that brings out the psychopathy of the killer author and sets us up for all the twists and turns. And there are so, so many. You’ll kind of see, kind of suspect the ending, but it’s still a total bombshell. If you’re not gasping and struggling alongside Emma, not completely invested and unable to put the book down, something is wrong. I read The Last Word in two breathless days, and it still brings back the evocative memories of reading a truly exciting book with a heroine to root for alongside a creative, twisted villain. The ending is original, high-stakes, and hits all the feels. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden
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