Book Review: Last Seen Alone by Laura Griffin
By Janet WebbOctober 13, 2021
Austin attorney Leigh Larson is the lawyer of choice for “victims of sexual extortion, harassment, and online abuse.” Last Seen Alone could not be more topical as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The plot lives up to the cliché, “ripped from the headlines,” since the news is flush with tragic stories of women killed by men with whom they’re familiar. It’s a standalone thriller although fans of Laura Griffin will know that Texas is a familiar setting for her thrillers.
When Leigh first meets Austin homicide detective Brandon Reynolds, she is quite wary of him. Brandon wonders what that’s all about.
Not exactly the response he usually got from women. Criminals, yeah, but not women in general. She’d said she was late for court, and that explained the rush, maybe, but it didn’t explain the lie.
Leigh Larson had lied to him—he was sure of it. What he didn’t get was why.
Brandon comes back with more questions. A search of the registration of a blood-stained, abandoned Toyota revealed it was registered to a Vanessa Adams. Adams is missing—why was attorney Leigh Larson’s business card found in the car? Leigh claims she has no idea who referred Vanessa to her. Brandon finds that puzzling: “Don’t you make it your business to find out where your clients are coming from?” Earlier he asked if Mendez and Larson had “a specialty.” Good question.
“Officially, no. But we do a fair amount of work going after psycho exes, stalkers, and online perverts.”
He eased forward. “Psycho exes?”
“You know, pissed-off boyfriends and husbands. Guys who harass and trash and post revenge porn, that sort of thing.”
For the first time since he’d shined his flashlight on that abandoned Toyota, Brandon felt like he was getting somewhere.
“Is that what was going on with Vanessa?” he asked. “And before you say anything about privilege, you should know that time is working against us here.”
“I don’t know. I wish I did.” Leigh looked sincere, but he figured that was an expression she had in her arsenal after years as an attorney.
Leigh asks her receptionist Bella whether a police detective had come by the office: “Yes. Oh my lord, talk about packin’ heat! Did he find you?” Yes, police detective Brandon Reynolds found her and given what he asked, Leigh needs to get up to speed on Vanessa Adams. Which, on the face of it, is not going to be easy since she admits she’s not even sure what she’s looking for. She asks Bella “Have we had anything from a Vanessa Adams lately?” but Bella has nothing to add. It’s not that unusual—all queries to lawyers don’t end up with a potential client deciding to engage a lawyer’s services.
What Leigh carefully avoided sharing with Brandon previously is that she had met with Vanessa. She tells him about their meeting after “a signed client agreement and a retainer check” arrived at her office, making Vanessa an official client. That changes things.
Brandon watched her, waiting. There was more to this story, or she wouldn’t have wanted to meet him.
“The thing is,” she said, “I reached out to her this afternoon.”
“Call or text?”
“Both. And email. She hasn’t responded.” Leigh frowned slightly. “And since a pair of police detectives tracked me down at the courthouse to ask about her, I have to admit I’m worried.” She paused and looked at him. “What’s going on?”
Brandon didn’t respond.
“You’re a homicide detective, right? You and your partner?”
“Crimes against person.”
She lifted her eyebrows. Now, who was guilty of semantics?
There’s a cat and mouse feeling to Leigh and Brandon’s early interactions. Brandon wants information from the lawyer, always aware that “the words attorney-client privilege,” are shimmering in the air. Leigh is worried about the woman who came to her for help—she knows (semi-spoiler-alert) how vulnerable women can be when they’re a victim of “sexual extortion, harassment, and online abuse.” Leigh and Brandon have a mutual goal: to discover Vanessa’s whereabouts. Is she alive or dead? Who or what caused her to need Leigh’s services? It’s not Leigh’s job to discover Vanessa whereabouts but willy-nilly, it seems Brandon has a civilian working the case. Leigh can’t let it go—she knows the devastation that can be wreaked on women by the actions of the men in their lives.
What happened to you, Vanessa?
It was a question for the detectives, and Leigh should leave them to it. She didn’t have the time or the bandwidth or even the skills, really, to get involved in this case. Logically and objectively, she knew she should back off.
But it was too late. She was already hooked.
Readers will be hooked too, by a viscerally compelling plot. Last Seen Alone is a bravura thriller—be sure to set aside the time to finish it or you’re guaranteed a late night.