It is my turn on the blog tour for The Last To Know by Jo Furniss, which was released only a week ago. Thank you very much to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part; the synopsis was extremely enticing!
Published: 11th August 2020
Genre: General Fiction/Mystery
Trigger warnings: Suicide, child death, allusions to sexual abuse
American journalist Rose Kynaston has just relocated to the childhood home of her husband, Dylan, in the English village of his youth. There’s a lot for Rose to get used to in Hurtwood. Like the family’s crumbling mansion, inhabited by Dylan’s reclusive mother, and the treacherous hill it sits upon, a place of both sinister folklore and present dangers.
Then there are unwelcoming villagers, who only whisper the name Kynaston—like some dreadful secret, a curse. Everyone knows what happened at Hurtwood House twenty years ago. Everyone except Rose. And now that Dylan is back, so are rumours about his past.
When an archaeological dig unearths human remains on the hill, local police sergeant Ellie Trevelyan vows to solve a cold case that has cast a chill over Hurtwood for decades.
As Ellie works to separate rumour from facts, Rose must fight to clear the name of the man she loves. But how can Rose keep her family safe if she is the last to know the truth?
This book brought many interesting ideas together and produced decidedly mixed results. Taking place within a oppressive and atmospheric setting, it had a slow burning concept that gradually gave way to a whole host of plot strands, the most prominent of which was a decent enough mystery that gets steadily more compelling as you approach the end.
It is not necessarily a story that sets itself apart from others in the genre, but I was nevertheless impressed by the writing and how the author attempts to give the plot an extra layer of complexity through dual narratives and the portrayal of characters from different backgrounds. The problem was, I just felt that at times there was too much going on and consequently, it lacked something of a clear focus.
Rose Kynaston is an American journalist who has just spent a long period of time working in Somalia, where she met her husband Dylan and together they had a son called Aled. Now, the three of them have moved to Dylan’s childhood home in England, a large country house owned by his eccentric mother in the fictional town of Hurtwood in rural Shropshire.
As she adjusts to her new surroundings, Rose becomes aware that the Kynastons are highly unpopular in Hurtwood, leading her to find out about events that took place two decades earlier, where a teenage boy committed suicide. This long-buried secret causes her to wonder how well she knows Dylan, and whether she has placed Aled in severe danger.
Meanwhile, Ellie is a middle-aged police sergeant who is set to lose her job and spends much of her time caring for her father, who suffers from dementia. When a body is found near the grounds of Hurtwood House, she makes it her mission to solve a case that has confused and divided the town for many years.
The book takes a long time to get going. It is only when the body is found just slightly before the halfway mark, where it truly begins to get interesting, and I found the police interviews towards the end very gripping. Before that, the only thing that really drew me in was the mystery of why everyone viewed Dylan and his family with such disdain. I certainly wanted to know more at that point, but all the same I struggled to fully connect with the story.
There were just a few too many plot strands for my liking. Some are quite cleverly resolved including the mystery, but others were less well developed and felt just a little bit superfluous. The series of events that take place towards the end could have been explained better, while the frequent references to Rose and Dylan’s time in Somalia did not really amount to anything significant.
Rose is written in the first person and although her uncertainty and journalistic experience both come across well, I struggled to warm to her as a character. She just seemed a bit vain and lacking in personality. I do not think she shared much of a chemistry with Dylan either, and he was also a little two-dimensional. His mother Gwendoline, trapped within her traumatic memories, was more intriguing.
I liked Ellie a lot more. Told in the third person, her chapters were more relatable and really helped to set the scene. As a character, she displays a world-weariness that comes across as charming rather than cynical, and she has the most memorable lines. Although Rose is the narrator, I feel like Ellie is the more worthy protagonist.
The eerie setting was one of the real highlights of the book. Hurtwood House is a mysterious place and the coldness from the villagers towards the Kynaston family added to the somewhat haunting atmosphere. I also think the author demonstrated a good understanding of rural England which is particularly noticeable during Ellie’s chapters.
The problems with the pacing aside, I did quite like the writing. It had a poetic quality at times and contained some good metaphors. The prologue was effective too, in the way that it provided a sense of build-up towards what happens at the end. It was just the many nuances of the plot which I felt were slightly hit and miss.
Overall, this was a book that I reasonably enjoyed, but at the same time it did not leave me wanting more. Ellie was a terrific character and I loved the setting along with ideas behind the mystery. If only some of the other characters were more developed and the plot streamlined just a little, then it could possibly have been a standout read.
Jo Furniss became an author after spending a decade as a broadcast journalist and producer with the BBC, working on both television and radio. She has previously worked in Cameroon, Switzerland, and Singapore, and this experience is evident in some of the way The Last To Know is written.
This is her second novel, having published All The Little Children in 2017.
A well-written story with a great setting and atmosphere. Issues with pacing and plot, but I liked it in the main.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐
*I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Check out the reviews by everyone else on the blog tour!