For most of the year residents in the harbour community of the attractive small town of Littleport, Maine, live a simple life, managing to eke out a living during the “lean” months of the year – from early autumn until the huge influx of affluent holidaymakers descends for the lucrative summer season. These wealthy families fill all the rental properties and support all those businesses which exist just for these few weeks of each year, merely to meet their needs. Their presence is something of a mixed blessing, mainly because many local people are unable to afford to buy desirable properties because any which do become available are bought, at inflated prices, to be used as yet more holiday rentals. However, as many of the local people rely on making enough money during the holiday season to see them through the rest of the year, any feelings of resentments are accompanied by a degree of ambivalence. This creates a powerful sense of a town divided between the “haves and the have nots”, with each group being regarded as distinctly separate and with friendships between the two being almost unheard of. However, one exception is the six-year friendship which has developed between local resident Avery Greer and Sadie, daughter of Bianca and Grant Loman, the wealthy owners of a large portfolio of summer-rental properties in the town.

When she was fourteen Avery’s parents were killed in a car accident and she was then cared for by her grandmother. For a time, her subsequent wild behaviour resulted in her being seen as “trouble” so when, following the death of her grandmother, she and Sadie become friends, she is surprised that the Loman family appears to accept their unlikely friendship. Grant, appearing to recognise her potential, pays for her to take some business courses, buys her late grandmother’s house to add to his other properties and, in addition to giving Avery a job, gives her a place to stay in the family’s guest house. She gradually takes on more and more responsibility, eventually managing and overseeing the family’s assets in the town throughout the year.

To mark the end of each summer season there is always a “Plus-One” party, a much-anticipated highlight of the social calendar. However, at the 2017 event Sadie, although expected, doesn’t appear at the party and late in the evening her body is found at the foot of the cliffs. Although the police rule her death a suicide, as she discovers more information about her friend’s final hours, Avery begins to think otherwise and is determined to get to the truth, even though some of the new information she uncovers appears to throw suspicion on her. As the 2018 Plus-One party approaches, coinciding with a memorial service for Sadie, tension increases as more evidence emerges to contradict the suicide verdict, but can Avery uncover the facts which will prove her innocence, especially when Sadie’s brother Parker and a local detective seem intent on proving she is guilty of killing her friend?

With Avery as the narrator, the timelines in this story switch between 2017 and 2018. Her recollections and reflections gradually reveal her own troubled background and the various events which led to the friendship that developed between her and Sadie. Through these reflections it soon becomes apparent that their relationship was complex and that her perceptions of their closeness were not universally accepted by either the residents of Littleport or the Loman family. The one belief the two sides do appear to share is that Avery had found various ways to worm her way into the family but was little more than an obsessed “hanger-on”, a gold-digger: a perception she is determined to disprove.

I found that this story had some strengths in depicting the tensions which so often exist in the relationships between the “haves and have-nots” in communities which rely on the patronage of wealthy holidaymakers. However, I thought that there was far too much repetition in Avery’s recollections of the night of the 2017 party and found my mind wandering during many of these sections of the book. I thought that the tension which could have been generated – by a storyline featuring a series of break-ins, power-cuts and various strange happenings at the rental properties, all of which contributed to Avery feeling she was under constant surveillance – was never quite achieved. I think that this was partly due to the frequent switches between past and present, but I think it was also because I found it difficult to care sufficiently about any of the characters who, with the exception of Connor (a local friend), seemed rather stereotypical and lacking in any real depth. Some of the twists and turns of the plotting were intriguing and appealing but these were offset by others which required considerably more suspension of disbelief than I found possible to achieve!

Although I had already guessed the denouement sometime before the end of the story, I do think that the way in which this was eventually revealed was well executed, but in some ways this only added to my frustration that the story had the potential to be so much more engaging and satisfying than I ultimately found it. On a more positive note, as I know the coastal areas of Maine well I very much enjoyed how the author’s evocative descriptions transported me back to a place which holds memories of happy holidays – to a large extent these were what encouraged me to carry on reading!

Linda Hepworth

Personal read: 3*
Group read: 2*

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda
Corvus 9781786492913 pbk Jun 2019