Book Review: Her Last Breath by Hilary Davidson
By John ValeriJuly 7, 2021
Her Last Breath by Hilary Davidson is a suspenseful thriller about a dead woman who predicted her own murder―and the sister who won’t let the truth be buried.
Hilary Davidson began her writing career as a journalist before trading facts for fiction, and her impressive output reflects the discipline and doggedness of that pursuit. In addition to 18 nonfiction books, she has seven crime novels—including both the Lily Moore and Shadows of New York series—and a multitude of short stories to her credit and has won two Anthony Awards and a Derringer, among other accolades. July sees the publication of her second standalone, Her Last Breath.
As the story opens, readers are introduced to renegade Deirdre Crawley, a tatted loner forced to confront her past when her sister, Caroline (“Caro”), dies unexpectedly, leaving behind a husband and young son. Both devastated by Caro’s death and regretful over years of estrangement before they reconnected, Deirdre is left reeling. Her grief is further amplified when circumstances necessitate a reunion with her father, who she hasn’t spoken to since a fateful event fractured their family. But the real coup de grace comes when she receives an email message reading, in part, “No matter what my death looks like, it won’t be an accident …”
This cryptic correspondence—set to transmit in the aftermath of Caro’s self-prophesized demise—further indicates that her husband, Theo Thraxton, may also have been responsible for his first wife’s death. Hellbent on avenging her sister (and protecting her nephew), Deirdre vows to uncover the truth only to discover that little is as she expects it to be. Meanwhile, Theo—the product of a privileged, poisonous family—also begins questioning the circumstances of Caro’s death but finds himself somewhat paralyzed given the weight of suspicion and his own lingering uncertainties. As he eventually sets out to clarify his past and clear his name (if, in fact, he can), he makes a string of startling discoveries that could reframe a fragmented history that has haunted him for decades.
Davidson skillfully alternates perspectives between Deirdre and Theo in what appears to be a classic showdown between good and bad. But as things play out, it becomes apparent that the two have more in common than either could have suspected—including the scars of their childhoods, each of which was punctuated by transformative acts of violence. Davidson excels at depicting the many emotional and physical manifestations of trauma, which are both profound and profoundly impactful. She also embraces COVID as a facet of contemporary life, albeit in subtle and organic ways. Consequently, the narrative is steeped in the realities of a world where PTSD and pandemics coexist—though her intent is to normalize rather than sensationalize them, showing how the things that hurt and hinder us also reveal our humanity.
Her Last Breath is another winner for Hilary Davidson, who has proven equally adept at series and standalone fiction. The structure of this novel is particularly compelling, and her delicate yet authoritative handling of sensitive topics elevates it beyond escapism. Indeed, there’s much substance here, yet it never gets in the way of story; rather, it enhances a plot that’s replete with surprising revelations and opportunities for redemption. And that’s the mark of a true master if ever there was one.