Last Seen Alive
reviewed by Fiona Cook
If you’re looking for suspense, a truly delightful pair of protagonists, and a serial killer story that won’t leave you feeling tired of the same old tropes – Last Seen Alive is the book you’ve been looking for.
This book may be the fifth in the Ellery Hathaway series from Joanna Schaffhausen, but whether you’re an established reader or just discovering the series now, you’ll have no problem jumping right in. Naturally, as someone who has really enjoyed these books, I have to – and gladly do – advocate for starting from the first book – but the prologue here establishes enough background for newcomers.
Ellery Hathaway is the only survivor of a notorious serial killer, and has since worked on multiple cases with the FBI agent who rescued her from his clutches, Reed Markham. Last Seen Alive, though, begins with them apart; at least until it becomes clear that the same man whose monstrous nature first brought them together isn’t satisfied to stay in the past.
Taking a classic storyline, turning it on its head, and then writing it absolutely beautifully is no more than I should have expected from this author, but I was still blown away by just how good this book is. Joanna Schaffhausen has written the series in such a way that this feels like a natural climax; we know these characters, we know the story so far, and the events of this novel not only fit in to the story, but take it further and somehow take it to even further heights.
I’d also be remiss not to point out that there’s also a welcome deviation from the “serial killer as twisted genius” trope. Recently, we’ve seen more media embracing a more victim-focused approach; this series has done so all along, but it’s taken even further in Last Seen Alive. It’s always refreshing, but it does require a balance to be struck between those considerations and the entertainment value of the story. This book could serve as the masterclass on walking that line – the pace of this electrifying novel never once dipped.
An absolutely excellent book, Last Seen Alive deserves to be seen as the benchmark for the thriller genre – Joanna Schaffhausen is quickly establishing herself as a major voice, and I’ll be here waiting for whatever she does next.