Review: Her Final Words (Brianna Lebuskes)

Lots of telling, far too little showing, and an ending that is anticlimactic.

Teenager Eliza Cook walks in to an FBI field office to confess to killing another (almost) teenaged boy. But she will only confess to Special Agent Lucy Thorne. When she lays out her confession, where to find the body, and hands over the knife used in the murder, she also makes a point to tell Lucy that a particular quote from the christian bible is carved on the boy. Then she clamps her mouth shut and refuses to say anything else.

For some reason, Lucy thinks there’s more to this story than just Eliza’s confession, and of course there is, because otherwise there would be no book. How does she arrive at this? Who knows. The Special Agent in Charge – Lucy’s boss – gives her three days to head to Knox Hollow and tease out any story that might be there. That was too bad, as it meant I’d have to keep reading this.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t really like it all that much. Lucy gets to Knox Hollow, meets Sheriff Wyatt Hicks, who has secrets, Eliza’s family, who have secrets, other members of their church (which is clearly one of those weird, cultish churches) who all have secrets, a deputy who works under Hicks, who also has secrets….you get the idea. It’s like the small town with secrets trope on steroids.

There are also a TON of characters introduced here. Cops, social workers, all the members of the church – if you’re not a fan of large casts, you might want to sit this one out.

Pretty soon, Lucy manages to find out that people – and especially kids – just vanish into thin air in this town, and another girl goes missing while she’s there.

For someone who only had three days to determine if there was something more going on in this secret-filled little town, Lucy didn’t seem to act with a whole lot of urgency. As she went around questioning people, she was often told she should speak to another party, and off she went, pinballing her way from person to person just because someone told her she should. I didn’t find her to be a deductive superstar.

The killer is given away before the ending – and it’s almost, but not quite, the author holding up a giant neon sign with an arrow pointing to the killer.

The ending was underwhelming, given that someone paying just a little attention could have seen it. The rationale behind the disappearances is semi-plausible, since people do oddball things all the time, in the name of something – in this case, in the name of some fundamentalist church. The whole thing wraps itself up with a bow, and all the loose ends are tied up.

Speaking of churches, there are some glaring errors about this cultish fundamentalist church: it’s highly unlikely they would have “Mass” and I’m almost 100% positive they would not carry rosary beads. Those things are part of the catholic rituals, and a cult, even one based on what seems to be the pentecostal flavor of christianity, is not going to have these things in their rituals.

We also don’t really get Lucy’s story: who she is, deep down, what drives her, what her backstory is. It doesn’t mean we need infodumps, but something would have helped me identify with her. As it is, she’s more like a “Hey, it’s that woman!” in a movie – a character actor whose face is familiar, but whose name you can’t recall.

The book shifts through time a *lot*, too. “Three weeks ago”, “Today”, “Two hours ago” and so on. After awhile, this annoyed me. I do not, in general, dislike timestamps on chapters, but if you’re constantly jumping around like this, you’re going to confuse the reader’s sense of time. If you do it almost constantly, then perhaps you should make it a series – even a duology, with all the events leading up to Eliza getting on a bus to go see Lucy to confess in one book, and then Lucy’s investigation in the second. It’s hard to get a real sense of what time it is, at least until Lucy reminds herself for the umpteenth time that she has to put this to bed by Monday, and it’s now (day) at (time) and well, she’d better hurry. But she doesn’t seem to be hurrying, and that’s a problem.

Overall, it’s readable. It simply didn’t grab me, which is a shame because I liked the premise.

Two stars out of five. Perhaps next time, Ms. Labuskes.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for the review copy.