Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 May 2023 from Hodder & Stoughton
My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an advance copy for review
Caz Ripley, a cafe owner from a small, ordinary town, boards the RMS Atlantica with her boyfriend Pete and a thousand fellow passengers destined for New York.
The next morning, she wakes to discover that everyone else on board has disappeared.
And that’s just the beginning. Caz must prepare for a crossing that will be anything but plain sailing …
If you’re a devotee of crime thrillers and suspense novels, chances are you’ve already read some of Will Dean’s work. He’s the author of the intensely atmospheric Tuva Moodyson series about a deaf journalist in the remote rural Swedish town of Gavrik. So you’ll know he writes characters really well and can develop stories that have warmth and compassion as well as spine tingling murderers.
But it is in his stand alone works that the depths of the harshness and cruelty of which he is capable really come to the fore. The Last Thing to Burn was one of my top books of the year because it combined that harshness so beautifully with understanding and compassion. But in this stand-alone novel, The Last Passenger, Dean has shown that he is capable of understanding great cruelty and of bringing to life the lengths to which people will go in order to survive.
Caroline Ripley (Caz) is on the luxury cruise liner RMS Atlantica bound for New York. Caz owns and runs a popular teashop and this trip is a treat from her boyfriend Pete who is with her on their first real holiday together.
After a fabulous first evening, Caz and Pete retire to their cabin and sleep. When Caz wakes up the next morning she finds that Pete isn’t in the cabin. In fact, as she walks along the corridors, she can’t find any signs of any living person. All the cabins are empty, each has its door wedged open; there’s no-one in the communal areas and even the bridge is deserted. The liner, it seems, is running on autopilot.
Caz is alone on a huge ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, if you read a lot of fiction you may see where this is going. I had an inkling and I was partly right. But nothing prepared me for what Caz has to ensure.
As she searches through the ship, she discovers that she is not totally alone. There are three other people on board and we gradually get to meet them. Daniel is a Korean-American who loves to travel. He is fit, good with tools and has a young daughter from whom he is estranged.
Frannie is a 21-year-old Welsh girl. Travelling with her parents on their anniversary cruise, Frannie comes across as weak and dependent. Then there’s Smith, an acerbic older American with an entitled attitude who believes that if you paid for it, you should damned well have it and his Diamond tier status with this cruise line already has him reaching for his lawyers to begin legal action.
These four are going to have to work together to figure out what’s going on and how to handle it.
Will Dean has written a shocking and incredibly immersive, pulsating chiller of a book which is somewhere between horror and a chilling look at the contemporary trend for manipulation and voyeurism for profit that is more than ever prepared to cross the line.
As food stocks rapidly disappear and even drinking water becomes scarce, what will these four be prepared to do to stay alive?
The Last Passenger is an ocean going nightmare. It is vicious and venal; unforgiving and relentless; without pity or mercy, this is a cold and heartless journey that delivers pain and fear in equal measure.
It is structured in short, fast-paced chapters, full of action and suspense. Dean makes it so that you can’t trust anyone in this astonishing scenario. Which brings me back to Will Dean, the amiable writer who lives in a cabin in the woods. Here is a man who goes out of his way to help other writers and whose love for his family and his big softy St. Bernard is not hard to see. Yet here is also a man whose mind has envisioned the most visceral of cruel ideas and has turned them into a compelling, propulsive theatre of agony with the kind of twists that burn like a knife cutting through flesh.
And just when you think it’s safe to land in dry dock, Dean delivers the most unkindest cut of all.
You can go off some people, you know.
Verdict: A breath-taking, harsh and utterly compelling thriller that left me all at sea. If this doesn’t leave you questioning this society’s twisted appetites, I’ll be very surprised. This is a corker of a book which is exceptionally suspenseful. I’d urge you to read it, but be warned, this five star read is not for the faint-hearted.
Bookshop.org Waterstones Hive Stores
Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. Red Snow was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019. Black River was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Award in 2021. The Last Thing to Burn was released to widespread acclaim in January 2021. First Born was published in 2022.