An atmosphere of dread and stomach-churning paranoia permeates every page of J.P. Pomare’s “The Last Guests,” whose airtight plot proceeds with implacable logic and spine-chilling plausibility as it builds towards completely subverting its reader’s sense of right and wrong.
Pomare has already secured his reputation as a Robotham-class psychological thriller writer, who manages to elicit menace from familiar surroundings and the ordinary elements of our lives; the things we take for granted. In the case of “The Last Guests,” it’s the privacy of our own homes, eviscerated here by an online community of voyeurs known as Peephole who watch live footage of unsuspecting people going about their daily lives, witnessing their most intimate moments, unknowingly exposing their secrets.
The engine of the plot involves New Zealanders Lina and Cain renting out their lakeside cabin on WeStay to assist with their financial troubles. Their relationship is imperilled by the legacy of Cain’s wartime experiences with the SAS. He returned wounded and distraught, and has subsequently struggled with a gambling addiction, and to get his small business off the ground. Further burdening Lina and Cain is their inability to get pregnant, which compels Lina to take imprudent action, with long-lasting consequences. Their lives threaten to unravel completely after a fateful night at their cabin broadcast live on Peephole.
Too many thrillers of this sort are curiously reluctant to get to their payoff — their premise hooks but their telling meanders — or are all unearned payoff, and don’t spend enough time creating genuine emotional stakes. Here the balance is perfect. “The Last Guests” is taut and tight. Pomare is attuned to the rhythms of suspense, and his character development is sumptuously succinct. Lina and Cain, compellingly imperfect, aren’t chess pieces to be manipulated for the sake of plot; their every action is rooted in human emotion, even when it feels extreme or irrational.
Pomare is brilliant at building to a grand crescendo, absolutely. But he excels at depicting the fallout like nobody else.
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