Book Review: The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh – a new promising new detective series in a moody North Wales setting

I saw Clare Mackintosh’s name connected with fellow suspense/mystery author Lisa Jewell, and being a fan of Jewell, decided she should be worth a shot. Like Jewell, Mackintosh has written a bunch of twisty mysteries, but The Last Party is the first in a series featuring Welsh detective Ffion Morgan. I like being in at the start of a promising crime series, and was soon glad I’d picked this up.

The mystery starts with the discovery of a dead body by swimmers braving a New Year’s dip. We’re in the remote village of Cwm Coed on the shore of a lake which borders England. Across the water is a luxury resort called The Shore, built by a couple of investors as holiday homes for the wealthy. These incomers don’t support the village shops, they zip around the lake on jet skies and are just generally obnoxious. So it isn’t surprising that the corpse turns out to be one of the investors, a Rhys Lloyd.

With a name like that you’d assume the victim’s Welsh. And he is – a local made good in the sense he’s become a successful star of stage and screen, and knows how to turn on the charm. His mother still owns the hardware store in the village, and it was his father’s land that he and his partner Jonny Charlton have turned into The Shore. Their New Year’s Eve party was supposed to bring everybody together and appease the villagers, but it all ends in murder. The story soon throws up a fair few suspects – it turns out Rhys is struggling to pay off creditors and his charm hides a darker persona.

DC Ffion Morgan is on the spot – she’s local, still living with her mother and sister in Cwm Coed, but for all that she’s something of a lone ranger. She drives an old Triumph at tearaway speeds over the winding rural roads and has a burning secret. She’s also shocked to discover that her one-night stand from the night before is the English cop assigned to assist on the case.

DC Leo Bradey is an intelligent and promising police officer from Cheshire, with a whole lot of baggage. His ex-wife is going out of her way to exclude Leo from being a parent to their young son, whom he adores, and his boss makes him the butt of all his tasteless jokes. Working with Ffion doesn’t get off to a great start either, but they slowly form a team. They soon discover that hardly anybody doesn’t have a motive for killing Rhys Lloyd.

The Last Party is a much better than average murder mystery. Clare Mackintosh is a former police officer herself so the story has a ring of authenticity. However, there’s a lot more than police work here. Family dynamics, old scores and the effects of burying damaging secrets all add to a character-driven, atmospheric read, the evocative setting adding a ton of interest.

As well as the dangers of the lake, there’s snow to contend with and the story builds to a life-and-death climax that has you on the edge of your seat. This is helped by a plot that switches back and forwards in time and between characters, mostly Leo and Ffion but also the key players and suspects. I was fair racing through the chapters to see what happened next. And then there are the twists.

For a diverting crime read, The Last Party doesn’t put a foot wrong and introduces a fabulous pair of detectives I’ll be happy to meet again. I’ll happily give it four stars. A Game of Lies, the next Ffion Morgan mystery, is due to be released later this year.

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