The Last to Disappear by Jo Spain: expect chills, spills and thrills – book review –

To the outside world, the Lapland luxury tourist village of Koppe is a winter wonderland of glittering snow, bright sunshine and roaming reindeer.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 3:45 pm
The Last to Disappear by Jo Spain
The Last to Disappear by Jo Spain

But beneath the jaunty sleds, speedy snowmobiles and spectacular Northern Lights lies a dangerous place where tragedy is always only a heartbeat away… and death awaits beneath the frozen ice.

Dublin author Jo Spain – a full-time screenwriter and author of the bestselling Tom Reynolds detective series – chills and thrills readers with a spine-tingling murder mystery set in the stunning landscape of Lapland with its endless, snow-laden trees and a bitter cold that can kill the unsuspecting in the blink of an eye.

At the heart of this atmospheric story is a fascinating police chief, Agatha Koskinen, a single mother of three children who is haunted by events in her past, and now tasked with solving the murder of Vicky Evans, a young Englishwoman who was working as a tour guide in Koppe and whose body was found in a frozen lake.

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It’s a fraught investigation which leads to the discovery of more possible murder victims and an unlikely alliance with Vicky’s brother Alex, a London professional whose guilt and anger threatens to spill over into the detectives’ hunt for a killer.

Wealthy London lobbyist Alex Evans has always loved his vivacious, adrenalin junkie younger sister Vicky who, at the age of twenty-six is still their parent’s ‘shining light’ even though she spends her life travelling the world and ‘bouncing’ from one tourist resort to the next.

In December of 2019, after months of not contacting each other after a phone row, Alex learns from his distraught father in Yorkshire that Vicky’s body has been pulled from Lake Inari in northern Lapland and he immediately assumes his irresponsible, fun-loving sister has accidentally drowned.

Alex travels to the wealthy winter resort of Koppe where Vicky worked as a tour guide and is met at the airport by Agatha Koskinen, the detective in charge of the case. Agatha tells him there is more to Vicky’s death than meets the eye and it looks like she was hit over the head before falling through the ice and into the lake.

Koppe, she tells Alex, can be a death trap… the weather, the landscape and the wildlife are not always hospitable, and sometimes visitors fall victim to what the locals call ‘Lapland madness.’

As the two join forces in the investigation, Alex, who is consumed by guilt over his sister’s death, begins to suspect that Koppe is harbouring secrets and it’s not long before he learns that three other women have gone missing from the area in the past and that Vicky may have left him a message that he never received.

With traumatic secrets of her own to nurse, Agatha must overcome Alex’s scepticism that she and her small team can find the culprit, and work on a case that has no DNA clues, no CCTV footage, and relies on the vagaries of people’s memories.

Is there any chance of tracking down a trail that has been frozen in both ice and time?

The Last to Disappear is a gripping, page-turning and intensely chilling treat full of visceral, visual descriptions and the perfect plotting that has made Spain a favourite author with seasoned fans of crime and murder mysteries.

Peering deep into the dark side of human nature and exploring the vividly portrayed landscape of a country that can swiftly change from exhilarating playground to freezing menace, this is an author who knows how to ratchet up the tension.

Meanwhile, each of the superbly created cast of characters brings their own stories and intrigues to the mystery as Agatha digs beneath a tangled web of secrets and deceit, a mountain of snow, and an investigation full of twists and turns to unearth the truth behind the disappearances of three other women over the course of twenty-one years.

So wrap up warm, expect chills, spills and thrills… and don’t look back until the last ice-breaking page has turned!

(Quercus, hardback, £16.99)