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Thursday, 23 October 2014

‘The Last Room’ by Danuta Reah

Published by Caffeine Nights.
ISBN: 978-1-907565-74-8 (Paperback)

Danuta Reah is a past master of the art of complex characters, and the cast she has created for The Last Room is no exception. The two protagonists, Will, an almost-disgraced retired senior detective, and Dariusz, a Polish lawyer with a political agenda and a deeply personal interest in the central storyline, carry the narrative in turn, while everyone else weaves in and out.

Briefly: Ania, a voice identification expert, has apparently committed suicide after her evidence in a key deportation case has been discredited. The retired cop is her father and the lawyer is her fiancé. Each has his own reasons for digging deep into the web of intrigue that surrounds Ania’s death, but they dislike each other on sight, which makes for additional complications.

It would be easy for the narrative to fall into did-she-jump-or-was-she-pushed cliché, but Danuta Reah is better than that; the question is, somewhat inevitably, posed very early on, but it gives rise to many other questions. It soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, and everyone has his or her own agenda. The reader, at least this one, is soon wondering exactly what all these various agendas are.

As complicated plots go, they don’t come much more complicated than this one. Past, present and future all have a part to play, but almost to the last few pages, I was never sure how all the threads were going to come together, and who the bad guys were.

The story twists and turns; other well-drawn characters move in and out of the spotlight; and the drab urban landscape of post-Glasnost Poland forms a background which makes things even less clear and more complex. All the settings have a sense of reality. Reah is clearly familiar with the edgy place eastern Europe has becoming since it emerged from communist lacklustre, and the quiet Scottish community and noisy English city are just as lifelike.

I gave up trying to second-guess the convolutions of the plot very early; it was the characters that kept me hooked. Even the minor ones are sharp and real; Dariusz’s elderly father, unwell and confined to a dreary flat, and Jack, the gruff, kind-hearted car park attendant in Will’s remote Scottish village are as palpable as other with far bigger roles.

I’m not normally a big fan of conspiracy theory novels, but this one kept me reading to the last.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Danuta Reah , who also writes under the name Carla Banks, was born in South Yorkshire. She comes from an academic family but opted out of formal education at the age of 16. She worked in a variety of jobs from barmaid to laboratory assistant, in a variety of locations, including a brief spell in Kingston, Jamaica. She says "I didn't plan my working life that way, but it was probably the best apprenticeship a writer could have."  She went to university as a mature student and then went on to teach adults in Further and Higher Education. She taught linguistics and creative writing, and in the course of this, refined her own writing style. "I didn't find my voice until I started writing crime. My first novel was based on a rather creepy encounter I had on an empty station platform one evening - it's a story I often tell when I do author events, but beware: it needs bright lights and a crowd." She published her first novel in 1999, Only Darkness, the rights to which have been purchased by Escazal Films. Her novels have been published internationally: USA, Germany, Holland, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, Czech Republic. Crime - or at least dissent - runs in the family. Her father was a refugee from Stalin's Belarus; one of her ancestors, John Woodcock, was hung, drawn and quartered in 1646 for his religious beliefs.
Danuta  is married and lives in South Yorkshire with her artist husband. She  is past Chair of the Crime Writers' Association. She is a regular speaker at national and international conferences and literary festivals, and has appeared on radio and television.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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