January 11, 2022
St. Martin’s Press
Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.
Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident―a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.
Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.
An older woman with bright red hair, mirrored sunglasses, scratchy voice, and badly painted acrylic nails appears in Kayla’s office at the architecture firm to tell Kayla it’s a mistake to move into her new house. She knows how Kayla’s husband died, about her little girl, and she says she could murder someone before mysteriously disappearing. And that’s the way, The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain begins.
The Last House on the Street is told between two storylines, one in 1965 about Ellie, a young 20-year old from Round Hill, a small North Carolina town, who wants to volunteer and help people. She decides to join SCOPE, a program that would educate and register Black Americans to vote, after learning about it in the newspaper, much to the fear and then disgust of her family and friends. The second storyline is in 2010 with Kayla newly widowed after her husband dies in an accident in the house they designed together.
To be honest, if the 1965 story had not existed, I doubt I would have continued with the novel as Kayla never felt like a completely drawn character while Ellie was not only completely fleshed out but was a more interesting character. Also, the Kayla storyline dragged for a good bit, with some needless repetition regarding the strange red-headed visitor. However, as the two storylines began to draw together the novel really gripped me.
Chamberlain did an excellent job of depicting life in 1965, the way that Black people were forced to live, the terrors they felt, and the constant threats. I don’t believe she in any way over-dramatized the situation for fiction. Many episodes were upsetting, disturbing, and emotional coming on the heels of uplifting ones. As I was reading, seeing that many Whites did not want Blacks to have a vote or were certainly not encouraging it, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the US today and how some politicians are trying to ensure that minorities find it very difficult to vote.
As far as the mystery goes, I have to say only one aspect of the great reveal was a surprise to me. Any good mystery buff will probably figure most of it out. Of course, it’s always the ride in a mystery and The Last House on the Street definitely had that.
Once past the slow start, The Last House on the Street proved to be an engrossing novel.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
4 out of 5 butterflies