Written by Jessica Warman
Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Published July 1st 2016
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia
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Ten years ago, in the early hours of New Year's Day, seven year old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam's home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam's sister Gretchen’s much older exboyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle's murder.Now, Sam's shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they reexamine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.
Neighbours Samantha and Remy were only seven years old when their world irrevocably changed. It was New Year's Eve and while the adults were upstairs partying long into the night, a man in a Santa suit smelling of alcohol slipped through the sliding basement door and took Samantha's younger sister Tabitha, sleeping between the two children. A manhunt was in place, but the child affectionately known as Turtle was never found.
Ten years later, and Sam and her family have returned to the house in which Turtle was taken, with a new sister who is now the light of her mother's life. Her father is unemployed, her mother is resentful and as Sam and Remy rekindle their friendship, they start to revisit the night Turtle was taken. As a man fights for his innocence on Death Row, they start to realise that the man convicted may not have been the one who had taken Turtle.
So if he isn't guilty, then who is?
The Last Good Day Of The Year was an incredibly compelling read. The storyline begins on New Year's Eve ten years prior, when a man in a Santa costume lifted then four year old Turtle from her sleeping bag, lying between Sam and next door neighbour Remy while their parents celebrated the new year. By the time her parents understood what had happened through their drunken stupor, Turtle had vanished along with the man who had taken her. Ten years later, and the family are once again faced with the distress of Turtle's disappearance as they move back into their former home due to financial hardship. With a new family member, five year old Hannah who is seen as Turtle's replacement.
Sam's mother harbours resentment for older sister Gretchen, now married but experiencing marital issues. Although back living at home, Gretchen spends most of her time with neighbour and best friend Abby as she cares for her ill father. Her former boyfriend was convicted of Turtle's disappearance but remains absolute in his innocence. Even though the storyline follows Sam's before and after perspective, her family unit is a pivotal part of the storyline. Relationships are broken as Sam's parents attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives ten years later, resuming their friendship with the neighbours, Remy's parents who were present on that fateful night. But it's Sam's friendship with Remy that she wants to rebuild. Torn from one another as seven year olds and having not stayed in touch. Remy has moved on and now has a girlfriend, but it isn't long until their shared experience drives the two now seventeen year olds back together.
The storyline was incredibly unnerving. A child brazenly taken but no body was ever found. The family still live in hope that Turtle may still be alive, the man having been committed still pleading his innocence even days before he is to be sentenced to death.
I couldn't tear myself away. The storyline left me feeling both restless and anxious, the emotion of Turtle's disappearance and both Sam and Remy reliving that night having taken a toll on my nerves. Among the main storyline, we also see glimpses of the unsolved case from crime author David Gordon, who published a book about the trauma of the four year old's disappearance. It adds an extra element of emotion as the reader can see how others have perceived the case, rather than just from the family that remains behind.
More mystery than thriller, the storyline was completely engrossing. I really enjoyed the switch from before to after the event as it added to the tension throughout the storyline. But unfortunately it was the crescendo of the storyline which left me feeling disappointed. Although disturbing, it was anticlimactic and confusing. Turtle deserved justice and as a reader, I don't feel as though it was achieved. Those who knew what happened to the then four year old, not one person had spoken up and lacked the action slash reaction growth and learning curve. The epilogue was unexpected and I still don't know why it was truly needed, as it raised more questions than answers.
The Last Good Day of The Year is an engrossing read, a pacified mystery that will leave readers feeling uncomfortable and unnerved. Although the ending felt rushed and lacked the shock factor that most readers will expect, it's the emotional journey of The Last Good Day Of The Year, rather than the destination.