Thursday, August 17, 2023

Review: The Only One Left by Riley Sager

by Riley Sager
Release Date: June 20, 2023
2023 Dutton
Kindle Edition; 385 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593183229
Audiobook: B0BJ17G933
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

At seventeen, Lenora Hope
Hung her sister with a rope

Now reduced to a schoolyard chant, the Hope family murders shocked the Maine coast one bloody night in 1929. While most people assume seventeen-year-old Lenora was responsible, the police were never able to prove it.  
Stabbed her father with a knife
Took her mother’s happy life

It’s now 1983, and home-health aide Kit McDeere arrives at a decaying Hope’s End to care for Lenora after her previous nurse fled in the middle of the night. In her seventies and confined to a wheelchair, Lenora was rendered mute by a series of strokes and can only communicate with Kit by tapping out sentences on an old typewriter. One night, Lenora uses it to make a tantalizing offer—I want to tell you everything.
My Thoughts
The Only One Left definitely had everything I love in a gothic story: family mystery, death, secrets, crumbling house, difficult family relationships, MC hiding from family and friends, missing staff members and servants, and a creepy atmosphere. And with a house tilting quite precariously at the edge of a cliff, I definitely enjoyed the eerie setting as I waited for the house to fall off the cliff and crash into the sea. But what I always find with this author, instead of keeping to the KISS principle, keep it simple, the story line got blown up, became way too convoluted, and suddenly, the nice creepy tension that was building up, was gone.  Blown up! Out of the water! And I found myself drifting out to sea not caring what happened to the characters anymore.

Kit, accused of manslaughter, is desperate for a job, so she is in no position to refuse when Lenora needs a new caregiver and no one else wants the job. I found her to be likable and sympathetic, and enjoyed learning about her difficulties and the choices she made while caring for her mom when she was sick. I found her to be creative when dealing with Lenora and I understood her bafflement when strange things started happening as I would have felt the same way.  I am glad she didn't do some of the silly things that some characters do despite her digging into everyone's business and checking out the house.  

The secondary characters were interesting, but I would have liked to see some of them more developed as I found their stories and their reasons for staying intriguing. There were some good explanations, but I wasn't quite satisfied.  Despite all of this, I couldn't quite connect with any of the characters, including Kit, as there were some things that just didn't make sense or were glossed over as being convenient, something that bothered me.

At first, I really enjoyed the plot and thought that maybe, this time, I would get through one these books, and be satisfied. But no, the plot grew convoluted, but not in a good way, and I found myself rolling my eyes and losing interest fast. When you have a good plot, and then add too many variables, and then expect a reader to just accept it, the whole thing loses tension and I grew mostly frustrated with the turn the story took and just wanted to finish the book.  The gothic feeling of the house was the one redeeming quality left in a disappointing conclusion. 

The Only One Left had a good premise and an eerie atmosphere, but with a plot that relied on way too many coincidences for my liking as well as a too-twisty narrative destroyed the tension that was being nicely built up in the first half. I had a hard time connecting to the characters as I didn't feel like they were developed enough due to too much emphasis on trying to out-twist the reader, which also left me feeling unsympathetic.  There were a lot of good elements to this book, and overall, I did like the story, but I do think the ending could have been reached without all of those twists, ramping up that delicious tension that makes you want to flip the pages even faster.