Apr/May 2018 Reviews & Interviews

The Last Train

The Last Train.
Sue Lawrence.
Allen & Unwin. 2018. 352 pp.
ISBN 978 1 76063 086 7.

Review by Ann Skea

Two families, over a century apart, their secrets laid bare...

So reads the blurb on the front cover of this book. And both families are linked by the Tay River Disaster in which, in 1879, a violent storm led to the collapse of the railway bridge across Tay River in Scotland just as a steam train was crossing it.

The two women around whom the story revolve both experience the sudden disappearance of their partners. Ann's husband is thought to have been on the train. Fiona, in 2015, has just discovered her de facto partner has run off to Australia, leaving her a loving note but taking all their money. But in both cases there is a mystery. Was Ann's husband really on the now submerged train? Was Fiona's partner really who he says he was, and where has he gone?

The plots sound good, but the writing is adjective and cliché driven and the strictly alternating chapters, jumping between eras and characters, disrupts the flow of the parallel stories.
I find it hard to believe that a woman who has just discovered her man has left her and is speeding down the highway to try and intercept him before he gets on a plane, should care about her "messy, fair hair and sallow skin" (has she only just discovered she has fair hair?) or the fact that she has not "taken a minute to brush on some blusher."

Similarly, it seems unlikely the Victorian woman, Ann, having just watched the train she believes her husband to be on plummet from the bridge into the river, now rushing through the storm to the local station for news, would bother to run after her hat when the wind blows it into some rose bushes.

Sue Lawrence is an award-winning food writer. She won the BBC Masterchef award in 1991 and has been cookery columnist for several prominent newspapers. She is clearly very good at writing about food, but not so good, I fear, at writing novels. Nevertheless, The Last Train is light reading that, although not to my taste, will interest readers who like a little history mixed with their romances.

My partner deems this to be a book to read on a train journey—but not perhaps when crossing the Tay Bridge.


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