Book Review: The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh

The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh is the first in the new DC Morgan series, where a New Year's Eve party turns deadly, and Detective Constable Ffion Morgan must work through a town full of secrets to suss out the killer.

Wild Ffion Morgan was no one’s idea of the kind of girl who’d grow up to be a police officer, but here she is at 30, Cwm Coed’s own Detective Constable, with a fairly wide remit from the North Wales Police. Like nearly everyone else in her small Welsh town, she opposed the building of The Shore, the glamorous resort built on the English side of their Llyn Drych, a lake of cold waters and breathtaking views. While the owner of The Shore, Rhys Lloyd, is a local lad made good after rising to singing stardom several decades prior, the resort is widely and not incorrectly seen as a place of pleasure for English people built at the expense of the locals.

In an effort to assuage some of the tensions between The Shore residents and said locals, Rhys and his business partner decide to hold a New Year’s Eve party, inviting select town dignitaries. Things go sideways fast, but the party—while chaotic—doesn’t quite spiral out of control. It’s only at the locals’ annual New Year’s swim the next morning that the true aftermath of the party is found: Rhys’s corpse floating in the lake, the clear victim of foul play.

Ffion wants nothing to do with this case, especially considering her awkward relationship with her English counterpart, Detective Constable Leo Brady of the Cheshire Constabulary. She tries to get her boss to give up jurisdiction to the English entirely before realizing that she has a greater connection to the case than she’d initially thought—a connection that will see her stretching the limits of professionalism and more in order to protect the ones she loves. When her boss finally gives her the okay to hand over the case to Leo, she has to think fast in order to stay assigned.

If she isn’t working on the case, she’ll have no way of knowing what’s been uncovered. How close they are to the truth. She walks away from Leo.

 

“The thing is, boss, I think I should stick with it.”

 

“Ffion, you begged me to take you off!”

 

“There are a lot of local inquiries to do on our side of the border. A number of witnesses who prefer to be dealt with in Welsh.” She knows just how to play this one. “And I think it’s good experience for me. You know, working in a team. It’s an area for, um, personal development.”

Personal development in a professional setting is an area with loads of space for Ffion to improve on, as Ffion and her boss both know. And if Ffion is being honest, she’s warming up to working with Leo, who is not at all the person she thought he’d be. While he’s a talented detective, he’s a bit of a doormat otherwise, causing Ffion’s protective instincts to kick in on his behalf as well. 

First and foremost of his problems—that she’s privy to anyway—is the appalling way his boss treats him. She doesn’t have to be a detective constable to figure out why.

“Is he like that to everyone?” Ffion says.

 

“Yes.” Leo’s response is automatic, then he thinks for a moment. “Actually, no. Just me.”

 

“Racist, then.”

 

“No, he’s never said anything racist. He wouldn’t dare.”

 

Ffion yawns. “Exactly. He targets you for no apparent reason, and the only difference between you and the rest of the office is…” She looks around the room, where every officer has one thing in common. They’re white.

Ffion and Leo’s friendship deepens as they wade further into the tangled mass of motives, means, and opportunities for killing Rhys Lloyd. Turns out that virtually no one liked the man and for very good reason. But who among the revelers on the lake that night had hated him enough to kill?

I cannot resist any book featuring drily humorous British police detectives, and this was absolutely in the top tier of those for me, ranking up there with Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae and Roberta Steel novels. Clare Mackintosh does not underestimate the intelligence of her readers, constructing a novel filled with clever, elegant twist after twist before a devastating ending that I’m still not sure I enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, it was great, but it did make me feel quite uncomfortable. I’m glad there’ll be a sequel to this terrific novel, though I very much hope it will focus on Leo, who was my favorite character here, as much as on Ffion.

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